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Lawmakers looking to prioritize transgender sports bill debate in SC House next week

Facing a deadline at the end of next week by which most legislation has to pass one chamber,...
Facing a deadline at the end of next week by which most legislation has to pass one chamber, later meet a higher threshold to pass, or die, members of the South Carolina House of Representatives are looking to fast-track debate on the controversial and high-interest “Save Women’s Sports Act.”(Mary Green)
Published: Mar. 31, 2022 at 8:21 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Facing a deadline at the end of next week by which most legislation has to pass one chamber, later meet a higher threshold to pass, or die, members of the South Carolina House of Representatives are looking to fast-track debate on the controversial and high-interest “Save Women’s Sports Act.”

The bill would require athletes at the middle school, high school, and collegiate levels compete based on the gender they were assigned at birth, prohibiting transgender girls and women from competing in girls’ and women’s sports.

Supporters of this bill have argued it is needed to preserve fairness and opportunities for female athletes, like scholarships. But opponents contend it could lead to bullying and even worse outcomes for transgender youth, a group that already experiences increased rates of depression and suicide.

On Thursday, after about 15 minutes of discussion, members of the House Rules Committee voted 13-3 to prioritize the Save Women’s Sports Act for debate in the House next week, the final week before the General Assembly’s crossover deadline. If a simple majority of the entire House approves the prioritization, debate would start Tuesday.

Three Democrats opposed the measure Thursday: Rep. Pat Henegan of Marlboro County, Rep. Jermaine Johnson of Richland County, and Rep. Will Wheeler of Lee County.

Johnson and Henegan said while they might support the bill once it reaches the House floor — though Johnson believes the proposal “needs a lot of work” — they disagreed with fast-tracking it ahead of other legislation before the deadline.

“What makes this one more important than every other bill we have out here, and what makes it more important than every other issue we have across the state of South Carolina right now?” Johnson asked. “What makes this one the No. 1?”

Rules Committee Chair Anne Thayer, R - Anderson, responded the bill had generated high interest from supporters and opponents, especially given the success of University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, against cisgender women competitors, and would likely be the most contentious piece of legislation the chamber will consider in the next week.

The General Assembly is typically only in session on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, leaving House members with just three days after Thursday to pass any legislation that needs to beat the April 10 deadline, though they could opt to convene additional days before then.

“To kind of get it up there, get it out of the way so both sides can be heard and dispense with it, whichever way that goes, and then we can get on with everything we want to before crossover,” Thayer said, adding the request to set the bill for special order came from Republican-led House leadership.

Rep. Case Brittain, R - Horry, argued prioritizing the legislation would give House members more time to “get it right,” especially given the number of amendments that will likely be proposed.

“If you’re going to put a bill of this importance out there, make it law, we want to make sure that we’ve crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is,” Brittain said.

Earlier in the day, the House Education and Public Works Committee voted 11-2, along party lines with one Democratic abstention, to send the bill to the House floor for debate, the furthest it has gotten in that chamber after twice being blocked in the House Judiciary Committee last year. Thursday’s meeting lasted less than 10 minutes, with no discussion of the bill among committee members.

A similar bill awaits debate in the Senate, which has not acted to prioritize its version of the “Save Women’s Sports Act.” That legislation narrowly advanced out of the Senate Education Committee last week, with members of both parties voicing concern that the bill had issues that could open the state or its public colleges up to legal challenges and that it was not ready for a potentially contentious floor debate.

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