By: Libby Skarin, Policy Director & Lobbyist, ACLU SD

A glance at my calendar as I write this tells me that today is March 31. That date is cause for much celebration around the ACLU of South Dakota office because it means that we have officially made it to the other side of the 2016 legislative session! This year's 38 day session was a whirlwind so take a deep breath, grab yourself a cup of coffee, and let's recap!

From lobbying, bill monitoring, testifying, analyzing, and beyond, ACLU-SD worked on nearly 40 bills this session. Those ranged from drug testing welfare recipients to accommodations for pregnant workers (and everything in between). Though our work in 2016 was a civil liberties smorgasbord, three issues in particular stood out: reproductive rights, criminal justice for juveniles, and LGBT rights. 

There's so much to say about these three issues, I've decided to break these legislative recaps up into a three part series. Today we'll start with our most dramatic issue of the session: LGBT rights. Next week I'll delve into the substantial attacks on reproductive rights we saw in Pierre. Finally, I'll conclude with our victory on the passage of SB 140, a bill that ended life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders.

One of the most dramatic and well documented issues from the 2016 session was definitely LGBT rights. This year, a group of legislators launched an unprecedented attack on the LGBT community, with a particularly cruel emphasis on singling out transgender South Dakotans. Here's a rundown of the bills we saw this year:

  • HB 1107 was a bill that would have legalized discrimination against same sex couples, transgender people, and anyone who has had "sexual relations" outside of marriage. This bill shared many similarities with a bill that passed in Georgia (but was vetoed by the Governor) as well as one introduced in Mississippi. This bill made it through the House but was tabled by the prime sponsor in a Senate hearing.
  • HB 1112 was a repeat attempt of a bill we saw in the 2015 session. Like last year's bill, HB 1112 would have banned transgender high school students from participating in school athletics. This bill passed out of the House but failed to garner enough votes to be passed in front of a Senate committee.
  • HB 1209 was a bill that would have forced government entities to interpret birth certificates in a way that would have erased the identities of transgender South Dakotans. Though the intent behind the bill was to target the transgender community, the problems didn't stop there. The bill also would have created legal problems for anyone who legally changes their name but does not amend their birth certificate as well which would have put a burden on many people, including those who change their names through marriage. This bill passed through a House committee but was tabled by the prime sponsor in front of the full House.
  • HB 1008 was, of all the anti-LGBT bills, probably the one you've heard the most about. Dubbed the "transgender bathroom bill," this piece of legislation would have singled out transgender students in public schools by forcing them to use isolated restrooms or those that don't match their gender identity. In addition to being unnecessary, this bill would have forced schools to violate federal law - including the protections under Title IX - and could have resulted in the loss of millions of dollars in federal funding. The fight against this bill ran down the clock to the very last minute. The bill was sent to Governor Daugaard where it met its fate: a veto. In his veto message, the Governor emphasized what we'd been saying all along, and stated that the bill "removes the ability of local school districts to determine the most appropriate accommodations for their individual students and replaces that flexibility with a state mandate . . . . [t]his law will create a certain liability for school districts and the state in an area where no such liability exists today."

With a lot of hard work, we successfully stopped each and every attempt to discriminate against the LGBT community this year. We pulled this off with the help of communities across South Dakota, students, teachers, parents, business leaders, our friends at national organizations and most importantly, some truly brave transgender South Dakotans who stood up to make themselves heard.