kristi noem
© AP Photo/Stephen Groves
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem killed legislation Monday that would bar transgender athletes from girls' and women's sports, refusing to sign the bill after it was returned to her unchanged despite her request for revisions.

The Republican governor insisted she had not vetoed House Bill 1217 after the House sent it back to her on a 67-2 vote, but the legislation died after the Senate adjourned before voting on whether to override her decision.

"There would have never been two-thirds here [in the Senate] to override, and we waited four hours," Senate Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck told the Argus Leader. "To tie up the Legislature for four hours for no constructive reason, it was time to go home."

In her statement, Ms. Noem said, "I cannot certify that the bill conforms with my specific recommendations. Therefore, my only option consistent with the constitution is the [sic] fail to certify the bill and to return it to you."

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota declared victory, saying the "bill that would ban transgender women and girls from competing on sports teams that match their gender identity won't be signed into law."

"House Bill 1217 was never about leveling the playing field for student athletes," the ACLU tweeted. "It was obvious from the beginning that this discriminatory legislation was about creating solutions to problems that don't exist and, in the process, harming some of the most vulnerable people in SD."

Conservatives and women's groups had urged Ms. Noem to sign the legislation after she sent back the bill March 19 in what she called a "style-and-form" veto and asked legislators to make changes, including removing collegiate sports from the ban.

She said the measure as written would set up a lawsuit with the NCAA that the state "cannot win," and she announced the formation of a Defend Title IX Now state coalition, but the bill's supporters said the best way to defend women's sports would be to sign the legislation.

"There should now be no illusion as to the kind of leader Kristi Noem is," said Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project. "In this past week, voters in her state and nationwide have seen her surrender to the left, engage in political theater to distract from that surrender, and now refuse to change course despite being called out for it."

Monday was the last day of the legislative session, also known as Veto Day, but the issue could soon resurface. Ms. Noem is reportedly planning to call a special session to include women's sports as well as stimulus spending.

In her message, she said "returning the bill is not a veto," but that the "constitution provides that the legislature's failure to accept my recommendations requires that the bill be treated as if it was vetoed."

Not everyone was convinced. KELO-TV's Bob Mercer called it a "Non-veto veto."

Opponents argued that the measure discriminates against transgender athletes, and business groups worried about the potential for an economic boycott of South Dakota.

Last year, Idaho became the first state to enact a law requiring student athletes in public schools to compete on teams that align with their sex at birth. The measure has been stayed pending a court challenge.

Republican governors in Arkansas and Mississippi have signed such bills this year, and other states could follow before the end of the legislative session.

The Alliance Defending Freedom joined 46 other organizations, including Save Women's Sports and Heritage Action, in a last-ditch plea Monday for Ms. Noem to sign the bill.

Alliance Defending Freedom general counsel Kristen Waggoner said her group was "profoundly disappointed that Gov. Noem vetoed South Dakota's Fairness in Women's Sports bill."

"While today is a setback for women and girls in South Dakota, we will not stop advocating on their behalf, especially in the face of the 'woke' corporate special interests so willing to trample on what female athletes have worked so hard to achieve," she said.