Déjà Vu in South Dakota

It’s baaack. In 2006 South Dakota voters defeated, 56 to 44, a ballot initiative that would have banned abortion even to save the woman’s life. Prochoicers cautiously exhaled. Antichoicers got busy. Taking a leaf from polls that suggested a hefty majority would favor a ban as long as it included exceptions for drastic circumstances–rape, incest, the life or physical health of the woman–antichoicers have rolled out a new initiative, Measure 11. It contains loopholes, in theory, for rape and incest victims who report the crime to law enforcement and allow collection of their DNA and that of the fetus, as well as to women “at serious risk of a substantial and irreversible impairment of the functioning of a major bodily organ or system.” An ominous sign: it was submitted to the secretary of state on March 31 with 46,000 signatures, although only 16,000 were required. In 2006 activists stressed the lack of exceptions–you’d force the woman to die? go blind? be paralyzed? bear her father’s baby? That argument was persuasive but left the vast majority of women who terminate their pregnancies undefended against the widespread belief that they were selfish sluts who used abortion “as birth control.” This is how short-term strategies come back to haunt us. There was always the risk that antichoicers would go for what they could get. As South Dakota’s own Leslee Unruh, colorful head of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, told the New York Times, “I have to save as many children as I can.” With 44 percent of South Dakotans supporting the Let the Woman Die ban, what are the chances that the new, supposedly more lenient version will be defeated? Jan Nicolay, co-chair of the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, the group formed to oppose the 2006 ban, told me voters will reject the ban when they realize its implications: forcing women to carry to term fetuses that cannot survive, tying Continue Reading

Trump signs executive actions advancing construction on Keystone XL, Dakota Access pipelines

President Trump signed two executive actions Tuesday that will advance construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The actions follow months of protests by environmentalists and Native American groups in North Dakota against the Dakota Access project, a $3.8-billion pipeline that would bring crude oil from the state's Bakken oil patch through the Midwest and into the Gulf Coast. Construction on the project was halted in December after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the pipeline to cross under a Missouri River reservoir in the area so it could explore alternate routes. The 1,172-mile-long pipeline spanning four states had been the subject of raucous, and at times bloody, protests for months at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles the border of North and South Dakota, that said the $3.8 billion pipeline threatened the tribe’s water source and cultural sites. The Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would run from Canada to U.S. refineries in the Gulf Coast, was rejected in November 2015 by former President Barack Obama, following a seven-year campaign by environmentalists against it. Trump’s executive actions make good on campaign promises to help move the pipelines forward and adhere to his oft-stated desire to ease, or eliminate altogether, regulations, including ones pertaining to the environment, to help spur economic growth. Environment groups pounced after news of the actions broke. “Trump claims he’s a good businessman, yet he’s encouraging dirty, dangerous tar sands development when clean energy is growing faster, producing more jobs, and has a real future,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. “Trump claims he cares about the American people, but he’s allowing oil companies to steal and threaten their land by constructing dirty and dangerous pipelines through it.” Continue Reading

South Dakota law allows child service agencies to reject LGBT clients

Adoption and foster agencies can legally refuse to serve gay people in South Dakota under a new law that activist groups have denounced as a “dark new reality” for LGBT rights. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed SB 149 on Friday, making South Dakota the first state to pass a so-called “religious freedom” law since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in 2015. The law says no child placement agency in the state can be required to provide services that conflict with any “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction.” The text of the bill makes no explicit mention of gay people or any particular beliefs that might cause conflict. But before signing the bill, Daugaard said he was particularly concerned about child-placement services getting sued by someone in a “protected class.” Civil rights groups nationwide saw the law as blatant discrimination, along the lines of similar religious freedom bills that other states have passed or pondered. The Human Rights Campaign said the law “signals the potential of a dark new reality for the fight for LGBTQ rights.” “LGBTQ children in South Dakota’s foster care system face the risk of staying in a facility that does not affirm their identity and actively works against the child’s well being by refusing to give them appropriate medical and mental health care,” its legal director, Sarah Warbelow, said in a statement. The ACLU of South Dakota called the law “discriminatory legislation” and said it was looking into legal challenges against the state. Adoption advocacy groups such as Voices for Adoption, Adoption Exchange and the Child Welfare League of America sent letters to South Dakota legislators urging action against the law. South Dakota now joins just three other states — Michigan, North Dakota and Virginia — that have passed religious freedom Continue Reading

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoes transgender bathroom bill at last minute

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota's governor vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have made the state the first in the U.S. to approve a law requiring transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that match their sex at birth. Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who initially reacted positively to the proposal but said he needed to research the issue, rejected the bill after groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign insisted it was discriminatory. In his veto message, Daugaard said the bill "does not address any pressing issue" and that such decisions were best left to local school officials. He also noted that signing the bill could create costly liability issues for schools and the state. The ACLU had promised to encourage legal action if the bill became law. N.C. CITY ALLOWS TRANSGENDER CHOICE OF PUBLIC BATHROOM "I am so happy right now. You have no idea," said 18-year-old Thomas Lewis, a transgender high school student in Sioux Falls. Lewis said he has support at his school, but that the veto shows such support goes beyond his friends. "The government's not going to hold me back from who I really am," he said. The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch, said he would ask lawmakers not to override the veto, saying more focus on the issue would detract from the Legislature's accomplishment this year. The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the bill last month, with supporters saying it would protect student privacy. 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. The high court victory encouraged advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights to push harder, prompting backlash from conservatives. Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender activist and former Olympic decathlon gold medalist, had called on Daugaard to veto Continue Reading

South Dakota one signature away from approving country’s first anti-transgender bathroom bill

Gov. Dennis Daugaard appears poised to make South Dakota the first state to ban transgender students from using their bathroom of choice without having ever met a trans person. “I have not met a transgender person that I’m aware of,” Daugaard admitted last week while addressing whether he’d sign the proposed bathroom bill. He has less than a week to make his decision, but expressed no plans to meet transgender constituents while considering the proposed legislation, according to the Argus Leader newspaper. The state legislature is now awaiting the Republican governor’s signature to implement the country’s first restrictive bathroom bill after an unprecedented 20-15 approval on Tuesday. DAILY DIG: BATTLE BEING WAGED IN PUBLIC-SCHOOL BATHROOMS NATIONWIDE The policy would ban school children from using facilities catering to their gender identity, restricting those students to single-occupancy, unisex bathrooms or facilities meant for the school’s faculty only with the school’s permission. The bill’s unlikely success horrified transgender teen Thomas Lewis, a Sioux Falls High School senior who now feels “ashamed to call South Dakota” home. "At this point, I'm hoping that the governor has a sense of humanity and the common sense not to write this bill into law," said Lewis, who is planning to attend college in Minnesota. "I am so glad to be leaving soon. I can escape the oppression that my home state wants to put on me." The bill was sponsored by 10 lawmakers including state Sen. Brock Greenfield. "Do you feel it appropriate for a 13-year-old girl to be exposed to the anatomy of a boy," Greenfield said while debating the bill on the Senate floor. "...or for a boy to be exposed to the anatomy of a girl because of the decisions we make out here?" Despite garnering opposition from transgender students, Continue Reading

ACLU adds staff to fight ‘terrible, discriminatory’ bills in SD

The American Civil Liberties Union is strengthening its presence in South Dakota in advance of legislative debates on transgender and women’s issues.The civil liberties group announced the hiring this week of a communications associate and administrative coordinator in its Sioux Falls office, bringing the number of employees for the state chapter to five.“It’s only natural that a civil rights organization like ours would be looking to expand our efforts in South Dakota based on the number of terrible, discriminatory bills that have already been proposed this year,” communications associate Jennifer Petersen said.The expansion will allow the organization to have a full-time lobbyist in Pierre during session to help oppose legislation that violates civil rights, according to Heather Smith, executive director of the ACLU of South Dakota.“The unfortunate reality is that we live in a state whose politicians would rather spend precious time and resources making it more difficult to vote, singling out and stigmatizing LGBT people, restricting women’s reproductive rights, and infringing people’s right to privacy than focusing on issues that actually need attention,” Smith said.One of the bills the ACLU will be working to block is a proposal that would require schools to establish bathroom, locker room and shower facilities based on students’ biological sex. Transgender students who don’t want to use the facilities based on their biological gender would have to submit a request to their school district for accommodation.State Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, said the ACLU's views on some of this session's legislation doesn't reflect South Dakota values.“The requirement that biological boys and girls be allowed in each other’s showers, restrooms and locker rooms, to me, represents an overstepping of the bounds of what they should be doing,” Deutsch said. Continue Reading

Transgender ‘community is scared by these bills’

Thomas Lewis can’t use the boy’s bathroom at Lincoln High School.Instead, the 18-year-old waits and drives home at lunch. It’s either that or use the girl’s bathroom, he said.“I just don’t go to the bathroom,” said Lewis, whose biological sex is female but whose gender identity is male. “Which is also not conducive to a good learning environment.”A bill passed by the state House of Representatives this week would force transgender teens across the state to abide by a similar rule, blocking them from the restrooms and locker rooms that fit their gender identity. Such rules run counter to federal Title IX guidelines and have led to lawsuits in other states. But the lawmaker behind the proposal feels his measure would better protect the privacy of students.“There’s always a potential for liability,” said state Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence. “The big issue is the values that we hold dear in South Dakota.”Members of Sioux Falls’ lesbian, gay and transgender community criticized the bill Friday in a news conference with the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota and the Center for Equality.Deutsch’s bill and others in the Legislature are discriminatory and harmful, targeting the safety of gay and transgender children, said Thomas Christiansen, president for the Center for Equality.“Our community is scared by these bills,” Christianson said. “We are afraid for our own safety or protection. We are scared we could be fired from our jobs. We are scared of being rejected from finding a home. Scared to even go to the bathroom.”Deutsch’s measure would require students to use the bathroom, locker room and shower assigned to their biological sex during the school day and for after-school events of any kind, including sports. Schools would be required to make accommodations for transgender students in a Continue Reading

S.D. becoming battleground for transgender issues

The South Dakota Legislature is poised to take the lead nationally when it comes to changing laws dealing with transgender residents.A handful of proposals would restrict the rights of transgender people and enhance the protections for those who refuse to recognize that choice. That discussion has attracted the attention of national civil rights and LGBT groups, who are now on the offensive and have shifted their attention and forces to Pierre for a battle over transgender rights.South Dakota is not the only state that is considering policies that require transgender students to use separate restrooms, and expand the ability of conservative Christians to refuse protection to gay people, unmarried mothers and the transgender community. But LGBT advocates say the state's approach is shocking.“South Dakota is even at the front of that trend of anti-transgender policy," said Kate Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. “And it’s taking a slightly different form in South Dakota, a more egregious form in South Dakota."Backers of the measures say they are necessary to offset decisions made by President Barack Obama's administration. They say his interpretation of a federal anti-discrimination policy expands too far in covering transgender students and reprimands have been unwarranted for conservatives affiliated with the government who voice their religious views.“We’ve never seen such an unprecedented attack on religious expression,” said Rep. Scott Craig, a Rapid City Republican who is sponsoring one of the bills. “The call or the cry for tolerance is definitely a one-way street."Jody Herman, a transgender policy expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, said a national crop of transgender measures sprung up in the past year largely because of the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on marriage equality, the media attention Continue Reading

Michigan spending on prisons far outpaces schools

Michigan is one of seven states that increased spending on corrections more than five times as fast as it did on public education over the last three decades.That's according to a report released today by the U.S. Department of Education.Overall, across all states in the nation, state and local spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of funding for public education for preschool through 12th grade."Budgets reflect our values, and the trends revealed in this analysis are a reflection of our nation's priorities that should be revisited," U.S. Education Secretary John B. King said in a news release."For far too long, systems in this country have continued to perpetuate inequity. We must choose to make more investments in our children's future. We need to invest more in prevention than in punishment, to invest more in schools, not prisons."The report says that the increase in prison spending "has been driven by — among other factors — an increase in the number of people incarcerated in prisons and jails."In September, Arne Duncan, who preceded King as U.S. Secretary of Education, called on states to invest in teachers rather than prisons. He suggested the nation could save $15 billion by finding alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders — money that could go toward providing big raises for teachers and principals working in the highest-needs schools.Michigan was highlighted among seven states that had huge gaps between the increases in spending for education and corrections. The other states were Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.The state spends more on education than it does on corrections. But the report shows that from 1979 to 2013, Michigan increased spending on schools by 18%. During that same time period, the state increased spending on corrections by 219%.Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said Michigan has been Continue Reading

Nebraska gay marriage ban ruled unconstitutional

OMAHA, Neb. — A federal judge blocked Nebraska’s gay marriage ban on Monday, but the decision will not take effect for a week and the attorney general’s office immediately appealed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska sued the state in November on behalf of seven same-sex couples challenging the ban, which passed with the approval of 70 percent of voters in 2000. In addition to prohibiting gay marriage, the ban also forbids civil unions and legalized domestic partnerships. The ban means that same-sex couples miss out on medical and financial benefits available to heterosexual married couples, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon said as he issued the injunction. “All of the plaintiffs have further demonstrated psychological harm and stigma, on themselves and on their children, as a result of the non-recognition of their marriages,” he said in the 34-page ruling. “The plaintiffs have been denied the dignity and respect that comes with the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Bataillon rejected the state’s argument that the ban reflects the will of a majority of voters and promotes family stability. He said he believes the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately endorse same-sex marriage rights, which have been upheld in four appellate districts. “The notion that some children should receive fewer legal protections than others based on the circumstances of their birth is not only irrational — it is constitutionally repugnant,” he said. His order blocking the ban takes effect March 9. Bataillon previously struck down Nebraska’s gay marriage ban in 2005, saying it violated the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians. An 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reinstated the ban in 2006. According to the court’s online records, the Nebraska attorney Continue Reading