North Dakota transgender sports bill vetoed

(Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

The North Dakota state legislature recently passed a bill that would have prevented biological boys (or, if you prefer, just “boys,” because I hate that term) from competing against girls in public K-12 school sports competitions. The bill is structured much the same as similar bills that have either been passed or are currently being developed in other states. Given North Dakota’s reputation as a solidly red bastion in elections, this measure seemed like a no-brainer. But in something of a surprise move, Governor Doug Burgum vetoed the measure yesterday, saying that there was already “sufficient protection” for K-12 girls in competitive sports. The margin on the vote was close enough that it’s currently impossible to say what the future holds. (Bismark Tribune)

Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday vetoed a bill restricting transgender girls in K-12 sports. The bill had passed the House 69-25 and the Senate 27-20 after conference committee amendments.

House Bill 1298, brought by Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, sought to prohibit public elementary and secondary schools from “knowingly” allowing a student to participate on a school-sponsored athletic team exclusively for their opposite sex. The bill does allow girls to play on boys’ sports teams.

The bill also included an optional 2021-22 interim study of the impact of the bill on student athletic events. Any findings and recommendations would go to the 2023 Legislature.

Supporters of this bill, including Concerned Women for America of North Dakota, must be having flashbacks to what happened across the border in South Dakota this year. Their legislature passed an almost identical measure, only to have Governor Kristi Noem veto it. An attempt to override the veto fell short by two votes. The vote in the North Dakota legislature passed with a veto-proof majority in the House, but was several votes shy of meeting that bar in the Senate.

The Governor’s explanation as to why he vetoed the bill contains a lot of word salad suggesting that he really sees no need for this measure to be passed into law. I have to agree with some of the points that he’s making, but he still fails to fill in all the gaps.

For one thing, Burgum points to the guidelines already established by the North Dakota High School Activities Association. They have set up rules allowing self-described transgender students who are not taking cross-sex hormones to continue competing in the leagues designated for their actual sex only. Female-to-male trans students who are taking hormones can compete against boys, but are then barred from competing against girls. Both of those are solid measures. The problem comes with their policy for male-to-female trans students who are taking hormones. They are still allowed to compete against the other boys, but they become eligible to compete in the girls’ leagues after one year of hormone treatment. Even ignoring the dangers posed by administering these treatments to children when virtually no history of medical research is available regarding them, one study after another has shown that males retain a significant portion of their natural, biological sports advantage over females even after years of hormone therapy. Something tells me that Governor Burgum needs to brush up on his research a bit more.

Another argument that Burgum made in saying that there was no need for this law pointed out that, “to date, there has not been a single recorded incident of a transgender girl attempting to play on a North Dakota girls’ team.” That may very well be true, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be one tomorrow or the day after that. Is his argument really that there’s no need for a law until someone has already violated it?

I’m not going to try to second guess the Governor here and suggest a reason for this decision. I’m sure he’s made the various political calculations required and determined that there’s some benefit to him in ducking this issue rather than tackling it head-on. If the Republicans in the state senate can swing a couple of the original “no” votes over to their side, the veto may still wind up going down. That’s what happened to a different type of transgender bill in Arkansas, setting up a case that may still wind up in front of the Supreme Court.