PIERRE, S.D. — A week after tweeting she was “excited” to sign a bill that would upend, if not entirely bar participation by transgender girls and women in sanctioned athletics in the state, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem announced on Friday, March 19, that she’s not signing the measure and actually returning the bill to the state Legislature for significant edits.

Calling for “style and form” changes to HB 1217, Noem effectively vetoed the controversial “fairness in women’s sports” bill, asking legislators to:

  • remove collegiate athletics entirely from the measure
  • open a pathway ostensibly for transgender students to compete according to affidavits or amended birth certificates
  • and do away with the stipulation that would require each school to file paperwork on every student documenting their “reproductive biology.”

“Unfortunately, as I have studied this legislation and conferred with legal experts over the past several days, I have become concerned that this bill’s vague and overly broad language could have unintended consequences,” Noem said in a letter to legislators.

Noem specifically lays out a scenario in which a student cut from the football team could sue his school after learning another student took steroids but failed to report the use on a state-mandated verification form.

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She also bemoaned an “unworkable administrative burden on schools.”

The about-face on this bill that purports to hold-off unfair competition from transgender girl athletes in girls-only athletics comes over a week after Noem enthusiastically embraced the high-profile bill’s passage on International Women’s Day and after days of sports leaders, particularly in Sioux Falls, warning of economic boycotts by collegiate championships, which the city’s leadership has courted in recent years.

“These are much more than style-and-form changes,” said Rep. Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat who opposes the bill. “This is a rewrite.”

Contrary to an outright veto, the state Legislature could agree to the style-and-form changes by a simple majority vote. The bill widely passed the House and — after a “smoke-out” — sailed away with a 20-15 vote in the Senate.

The state’s constitution leaves broad language for what constitutes a “style and form” change, noting only the practice can be used on “bills with errors in style or form.”

The two prime sponsors of the bill, Rep. Rhonda Milstead, R-Hartford, and Sen. Maggie Sutton, R-Sioux Falls, did not respond immediately to requests for comment for this story.

Style-and-form vetoes are not unheard of in Pierre. Just two years ago, Noem returned a bill ponying up $1 million for pheasant habitat to the state Legislature, which ultimately agreed to her recommended changes.

The Sioux Falls-based Transformation Project is holding a “Let Kids Play” rally Saturday, March 20, opposed to the bill.

“No one is harmed by allowing transgender people to compete consistent with who they are,” Susan William, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. “We hope that Gov. Noem sees the widespread opposition to this bill and won’t sign it into law.”