Transgender surgery, hormone ban heads to Gov. Kristi Noem's desk following 30-4 vote in South Dakota Senate
“In South Dakota, an overwhelming majority don't feel it is necessary or appropriate for minors to have gender-altering, permanent surgeries taking place,” Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree said.
PIERRE, S.D. — A bill to “prohibit chemical castration and cosmetic genital surgeries on children” is on its way to the desk of Gov. Kristi Noem, passing the South Dakota Senate on Feb. 9 by a party-line vote of 30-4.
House Bill 1080, a controversial ban on transgender surgeries and hormonal treatments for kids who identify as transgender, has filled committee rooms and led to tense debate in both chambers.
The proposal’s enforcement mechanism in its current form is a potential loss of professional or occupational licensing for doctors who violate the law, as well as an option for patients to seek recourse in the form of a civil lawsuit for “injury suffered” as a result of covered procedures.
It also offers some exceptions to the ban for patients with a “medically verifiable disorder of sex development” among other carve-outs, though the manner in which doctors will use discretion on these exceptions is unclear.
“In South Dakota, an overwhelming majority don't feel it is necessary or appropriate for minors to have gender-altering, permanent surgeries taking place,” Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree, of Madison, told reporters at a news conference Thursday morning. “And that's really where South Dakotans are at.”
The Senate Health and Human Services committee, widely seen as the most challenging hurdle to get over for the legislation on its way to Noem’s desk, approved the bill 4-2 on Wednesday, with Sen. Tim Reed, a Republican from Brookings, joining Democratic Sen. Shawn Bordeaux, of Mission, in voting against moving the bill forward.
Reed explained his opposition as stemming from the supposed medical merit of puberty blockers for children with gender dysphoria.
“I think puberty blockers give the doctors at least a little bit of a pause, and can maybe help that individual figure out how they should go forward,” Reed explained just before the health committee voted to send the bill to the floor.
And, despite the party-line vote on the Senate floor, some Republican lawmakers appeared to agree with Reed’s hesitation, which culminated in an amendment proposed on the floor to nix the puberty blocker ban from the language.
Five Republicans joined all four Democrats in supporting the amendment, though it fell well short of derailing the bill’s passage and sending the House and Senate into conference negotiations, a process when the two chambers pass different forms of the same bill.
Another amendment, proposed by Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat from Sioux Falls, would have tasked the Department of Social Services with developing a plan for addressing the mental health needs of these children.
The amendment earned only four supporters, all of them Democrats. Republican Sens. John Wiik, of Big Stone City and Al Novstrup, of Aberdeen, called Nesiba’s proposal an “unfunded mandate” for the department.
Assuming Noem follows through on supporting the bill with her signature, both proponents and opponents appear certain that the law will have to be interpreted in myriad unique cases and will be quickly tied up in the courts, likely on the grounds that the law potentially discriminates based on sex.
“The question really becomes whether using utilizing [puberty blockers] for mental health treatment, whether that falls under that prohibition,” said Sen. Michael Diedrich, of Rapid City, the assistant majority leader in the chamber. “And the reality is that the law if it passes is likely to become enjoined like similar laws in other states.”
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.