Noem will start the session torn between social and economic issues

SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) – As South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem marks the start of the state’s legislative session on Tuesday, she finds herself in a balancing act, caught between groups of companies wishing to accelerate the economic growth of the state and social conservatives pushing some of the country’s most aggressive legislation targeting transgender people.

The Republican governor’s hands-off approach to the coronavirus pandemic has mostly satisfied both sides, gaining his nationwide attention and popularity in the state.

She consistently touted the state’s economic performance – calling it “the country’s strongest economy” – as she tried to lure business into the state while wooing conservative voters with efforts to ban abortion, institute prayer in schools and regulate what can be taught in public schools.

But as Noem delivers the final state-of-state speech in her first term on Tuesday, she will navigate a rift in the GOP between business groups that have long dominated the party and social conservatives demanding renewed attention. from aspiring politicians. like her.


Sometimes she was unable to please both.

Last year’s legislative session ended with social conservatives lashing out at Noem as she effectively killed a bill banning transgender women and girls from playing in school sports leagues that match to their gender identity.

Noem issued a “style and form veto,” which limited him to high school and elementary sports, after business groups aggressively lobbied against the bill, warning that it could put in place. The state’s economic growth would jeopardize if the NCAA withdraws from the state’s tournaments or if Amazon cancels its plans to build a distribution center.

But the move angered many prominent social conservatives, such as Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, who accused her of capitulating to American companies instead of demonstrating a commitment to conservative principles. .

Defending the move to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson last year, Noem explained, “We’re a small state, Tucker, we had to fight hard to get tournaments going in South Dakota.”

After the failure of the bill, Noem quickly issued decrees to the same effect. And this year, she tried to take the lead on the issue with a bill introduced in December that would bar trans athletes from women’s sports leagues.

“Every young woman deserves a level playing field where she can be successful, but common sense tells us that men have an unfair physical advantage over women in athletic competition,” she said in a statement.

The bill earned Noem a nod from Schilling, but state lawmakers want to push the governor to take a stronger stance on the issue. They introduced their own transgender athlete legislation with a more precise enforcement mechanism, as well as proposals that would prohibit transgender students from using toilets that match their gender identity and minors’ access to therapy and operations. hormonal asserting their gender.

“As a whole, we want to protect children,” said Republican Representative Fred Deutsch, a perennial champion of bills, arguing that the legislature should intervene in school sports, access to toilets in schools and healthcare to meet what he sees as a growing number of transgender children.

Transgender advocates plan to protest and lobby against the legislation, saying it intimidates a group of already marginalized people.

“These (bills) attack transgender people in the form of legislation,” said Rep. Jamie Smith, the Democratic House leader. “They don’t have to take our legislature’s time.”

However, in the Republican-dominated Capitol Hill, the most effective argument against these types of bills has often been dollars and cents.

“When you just discriminate against a particular class of people, it tends to lead to the cancellation of conventions, sanctions by event groups like the NCAA,” said David Owen, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. of South Dakota.

He also argued that the state’s high school athletics association already had an effective policy of evaluating transgender athlete applications on a case-by-case basis. In the one case where the association granted the request of a transgender student, the competition was not interrupted, according to the athletics association.

When North Carolina passed a so-called toilet law in 2016, the state was expected to lose more than $ 3.76 billion over a dozen years, according to an Associated Press analysis. And while businesses and the NCAA refused to impose the same economic sanction last year when nine other states restricted transgender students, South Dakota business leaders are still wary.

Thomas Lee, director of the Sioux Falls Sports Authority, which hosts the state’s biggest college tournaments, warned that “the NCAA, instead of removing events, may not award events in the future.”

Republican legislative leaders, who are key allies of Noem, have expressed their caution over the legislature’s proposals. Republican Senate Leader Senator Gary Cammack said his caucus would look at women’s sports, but he didn’t want South Dakota to be “on the extreme” of the issue.

Ian Fury, spokesperson for the governor, also indicated that she would remain focused on the issue of sport, saying: “Political ideology should not be a barrier to the possibility for our daughters and granddaughters to grow up and grow up. be successful as student-athletes.

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Associated Press writer Tom Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa contributed to this report.

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