PIERRE (AP) – A major supporter of restricting which facilities transgender students could use in South Dakota schools plans to pause its effort at the Capitol and instead wait until the 2019 session when a new, potentially more favorable governor will be in office, a top official said Thursday.
Family Heritage Alliance Action won't bring a "student privacy act" next session in part because of GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard's past opposition, said Ed Randazzo, the nonprofit's director of political operations.
Daugaard broke with legislative Republicans last year in rejecting the so-called bathroom bill, saying it didn't address "any pressing issue" and that such decisions were best left to local schools. He threatened to veto a similar proposal during the 2017 session before it was ultimately scuttled, averting another bitter fight over the issue.
"We don't see any reason why the governor would have changed his mind since he's already vetoed it once and said he would veto it a second time," Randazzo told The Associated Press.
But Randazzo said he's buoyed because the two top Republicans vying to succeed Daugaard – Attorney General Marty Jackley and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem – have offered support for the idea. Daugaard can't run again next year because of term limits and leaves office in 2019.
Jackley said in a statement this week that kids shouldn't be in a locker room or bathroom with children of the opposite birth gender. Jackley said that, as governor, he would sign legislation that "protects student privacy and allows local school districts to provide reasonable accommodations."
Noem told the AP that she thinks locker rooms and restrooms should be "girls in girls' restrooms, boys in boys' restrooms," but said she would want to review specific language before committing her support.
"I think that we certainly can work to provide other accommodations for other individuals, but I know it's a big concern in the state of South Dakota," Noem said.
State Sen. Billie Sutton, a Democrat running for governor, voted against the 2016 bill. He didn't immediately return a telephone message requesting comment.
Randazzo said supporters aim to protect the privacy of all students. But critics argue that such measures are discriminatory.
Terri Bruce, a transgender man who fought against the bill last year, said such a law would hurt transgender people and South Dakota's critical tourism industry.
"Whenever it comes up, I'll be there, and so will a lot of other people," Bruce said. "We're not going to back down from any of this."
Family Heritage Alliance Action is also charting a course apart from a proposed ballot measure that would require transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their sex at birth.
The status of the plan is unclear, and sponsor Jack Heyd hasn't returned telephone messages requesting comment from the AP. Supporters haven't yet completed the steps necessary to start gathering signatures, according to the Secretary of State's office.
The initiative would require people to use the public school bathrooms, locker rooms, shower rooms and changing facilities matching their sex at birth. Schools would be allowed upon request to provide alternative accommodations, such as single-occupancy restrooms.
Randazzo said that the last he'd heard, the initiative was going to be withdrawn. He said it's an issue for the Legislature, not the ballot.
"The reason for that is: I think you invite outside forces, outside money, outside interests ... influencing the laws of South Dakota, and we don't particularly like that," Randazzo said.