PIERRE, S.D. — The lone South Dakota Democrat running for governor said Friday that measures restricting which facilities transgender students can use at school amount to “a solution in search of a problem.”
Sen. Billie Sutton opposed a so-called bathroom bill when it was proposed during the 2016 legislative session. He said in a statement to The Associated Press that local schools have been handling the issue in the best way for their students, a view shared by term-limited Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard but one that diverges from the top two Republicans vying to replace him.
Sutton pointed to the “catastrophic” economic consequences of passing such a measure. A similar law in North Carolina sparked national uproar and costly boycotts before lawmakers rolled much of it back.
“South Dakota prides itself on common sense, and laws like this are a solution in search of a problem,” the Burke legislator said in the statement.
A key conservative group, Family Heritage Alliance Action, plans not to pursue a “student privacy act” until 2019, when a new, potentially more favorable governor will be in office, according to Ed Randazzo, the nonprofit’s director of political operations.
Such limitations have been proposed at statehouses across the country, including unsuccessful bills on school facilities proposed during the past two legislative sessions in South Dakota. Critics argue that such measures are discriminatory. Randazzo has said supporters aim to protect the privacy of all students.
Daugaard broke with legislative Republicans last year in rejecting a 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 proposal this year dealing with locker rooms, shower rooms and changing facilities before it was ultimately scuttled.
The top Republicans competing in the GOP gubernatorial primary — Attorney General Marty Jackley and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem — offered support for such restrictions earlier this week.
Jackley said in a statement that children shouldn’t be in a locker room or bathroom with peers 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 said she thinks locker rooms and restrooms should be “girls in girls’ restrooms, boys in boys’ restrooms.” But she said would want to review specific language before committing her support.
There’s also a proposed ballot measure sponsored by resident Jack Heyd that would require transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their sex at birth. The status of that plan is unclear, and Heyd hasn’t returned telephone messages requesting comment from the AP. The Secretary of State’s Office said supporters haven’t yet completed the steps necessary to start gathering signatures.