PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The South Dakota House failed on Thursday to override the governor's veto of a bill that would have required transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their birth gender, though the bill's main sponsor suggested that supporters regroup and come back with a "better, stronger bill."
The vote came two days after Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed the bill, saying it didn't address "any pressing issue" and that such decisions were best left to local schools. The governor also warned that such a law — which would have been a first in the U.S. — could invite costly litigation against the state and local schools.
Bill opponent Terri Bruce, a transgender man who watched Thursday's vote from the House gallery, said he was "ecstatic" after the failed veto override, which he called "an absolute relief." Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, added in a statement: "Fairness and equality have prevailed over this unconscionable legislative assault on transgender children."
Transgender rights have become a new flashpoint in the nation's cultural clashes following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage last year. South Dakota became a focal point after its Republican-controlled Legislature last month approved the legislation, which supporters said was aimed at protecting student privacy. Opponents criticized it as discriminatory, saying it would further marginalize transgender students.
Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender activist and former Olympic decathlon gold medalist, had called on Daugaard to veto the bill. Opponents also used the South Dakota Tourism Department's Twitter hashtag to take aim at the state's roughly $3.8 billion tourism industry.
Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch, the bill's primary sponsor in the House, asked lawmakers Tuesday and again on Thursday not to override the veto. In his plea Thursday, he told his colleagues: "Do we continue to push the issue over to the Senate to simply make a point, or do we take the summer to regroup and come back with a better, stronger bill?"
The bill originally passed the House by a veto-proof 58-10 vote, though supporters didn't muster the 47 votes needed on Thursday to reach the required two-thirds margin for an override. Even if they had, their efforts would have faced a harder time in the Senate, which only narrowly passed the legislation 20-15 earlier this year.
Senate Majority Leader Corey Brown noted ahead of the vote that overriding a veto was usually an uphill fight, "especially if you are short the votes the first time around."
House Republicans declined to heed the advice.
"Girls belong in girls bathrooms, boys belong in boys," said Republican Rep. Thomas Brunner, who supported overriding the veto. "This is not a little speech we make on the stump. This is what we really believe, and how we want to protect our children, whether they're boys or they're girls or they're somewhere in between. This is how we protect people here."
Daugaard initially offered a positive reaction to the bill, but said he wanted to research the issue before making a decision. Last week, he met with three transgender individuals and heard their personal stories; before the meeting, he said he had never knowingly met a transgender person.
Daugaard's chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, said Thursday's vote shows "there are quite a few House members who shared some of the same concerns that the governor had."
A state Senate committee earlier Thursday shot down a separate bill that would have voided a state activities association policy allowing transgender students to request to play on the athletic team of their choice.
Lammers reported from Sioux Falls.