BISMARCK — An attempt by North Dakota's Republican-dominated Legislature to override Gov. Doug Burgum's veto of a restriction on the participation of transgender athletes in K-12 sports came up short Thursday, April 22, after it failed to pick up enough votes in the Senate chamber.
A day after Burgum vetoed House Bill 1298, Senate lawmakers did not reach the two-thirds majority needed to override his decision, voting 28-19 in favor of the lightning rod proposal. The bill died after falling four votes shy of the necessary threshold in the Senate.
The vote to sustain the governor's veto followed four speeches by Republican lawmakers defending the proposal. The lead sponsor on the bill, Edinburg Republican Sen. Janne Myrdal, told colleagues Burgum's veto overly focused on the existing policies of the North Dakota High School Activities Association instead of the merits of the bill.
"If the (NDHSAA) adopts the policy preferred by this administration and the activists, remember that it forces our children, our parents and our schools to affirm, allow, cooperate and, yes, even celebrate a gender ideology that they might not agree to," she said.
No lawmakers spoke against the bill ahead of Thursday's Senate vote.
The proposal states K-12 public schools in North Dakota cannot "knowingly allow an individual of the opposite sex" to join an exclusively male or female sports team, effectively barring transgender students from competing alongside athletes of their identifying gender.
Proponents of the restriction advocated for it as needed legislation to protect fair competition in girls sports.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who spoke against the proposal said its passage would have dangerous mental health repercussions for members of the transgender and LGBT communities in North Dakota. Critics also warned the policy would drive out corporate investment and create costly, unnecessary lawsuits for the state.
In a letter informing the House of his veto Wednesday evening, Burgum said there is no evidence to support the legislation's premise that fairness in girls sports is endangered under current law, noting there has not been “a single recorded incident” of a transgender girl attempting to join a K-12 sports team in North Dakota.
“North Dakota today has a level playing field and fairness in girls' sports," the Republican governor said, crediting leadership and existing policies under the NDHSAA. "We have every confidence that they will continue to ensure a level playing field for the 27,000 students who participate in North Dakota high school sports."
The Republican governor's decision to veto the proposal was celebrated by LGBT rights groups Wednesday night.
"House Bill 1298 was never about leveling the playing field for student athletes. 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 our state," said Libby Skarin, a campaign director for the ACLU, in a statement.
The transgender athlete restriction reached a dead end in the Senate after it cleared the bar needed to override the veto in the House earlier Thursday. House lawmakers voted 68-25 in favor of the proposal.
North Dakota's transgender athlete bill is part of a national flood of legislation that would restrict or bar transgender students from participating in school sports. More than 30 states have taken up legislation this year that would restrict the participation of transgender youth in state-sponsored sports leagues, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Governors in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas signed their states' versions of transgender athlete restrictions in recent weeks. In neighboring South Dakota, lawmakers’ attempts to override a partial veto by Gov. Kristi Noem earlier this year came up short.
Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.