COLUMBIA, S.C. — A committee in the South Carolina House on Tuesday rejected for a second time a proposal that would have prevented transgender students from playing on girls’ sports teams in middle and high school.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-11 against the bill. The same committee tabled a similar proposal on March 16, leading supporters to change some introductory language but leave the essence of the bill untouched for a second try.
South Carolina was one of more than 20 states considering restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for transgender minors this year. Mississippi and Alabama have made the bills law and West Virginia’s governor said he will sign a bill on his desk.
The Kansas Legislature passed it, but the governor vetoed the bill, saying the measure was a jobs killer that harms children.
That was part of the argument against the latest South Carolina proposal. Opponents said the state might lose businesses that are considering moving in or expanding. They said South Carolina also risked losing NCAA tournaments and championships like they did for the 15 years starting in 2000 when the Confederate flag was moved from the Capitol dome to the Statehouse lawn.
Rep. John McCravy said his support of the bill was about “equity, fairness and safety” because girls might lose playing time, college scholarship possibilities or even face greater risk of injury if transgender athletes were allowed on their teams.
“We don’t allow 12th graders to compete with sixth graders,” the Republican from Greenwood said.
Six Republicans voted against the bill in committee, including Rep. Micah Caskey of West Columbia, who said the South Carolina High School League policy about the issue has only been tested four times and seems to work. That policy also had the backing of independently elected state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman, who also spoke out against the bill this year.
“I can find no urgency in respect to this issue,” Caskey said “We are not standing on the precipice of the decline of civilization.”
Caskey also said the bill likely violates the federal law barring sex discrimination in education.
Conservatives across the county also have struggled to give examples of problems. The Associated Press spoke to two dozen state lawmakers sponsoring such measures around the country as well as the conservative groups supporting them and found only a few times it’s been an issue among the hundreds of thousands of American teenagers who play high school sports.
The twice-failed bill is a rare loss for conservative Republicans in this year’s session. They gained five seats in the House and Senate in the 2020 elections and have pressed their greater advantage into a new law banning all abortions that is tied up in court.
Democrats did not unite against the bill. Rep. Cezar McKnight from Kingstree voted for it. But nearly every other Democrat spoke against the bill during the two-hour meeting.
Rep. Beth Bernstein of Columbia asked exactly how coaches or officials would check a 13-year-old who identifies as a female for their biological sex as required by the law.
“If she really is a biological male, she should admit to that,” McCravy said.
Rep. Justin Bamberg said the Judiciary Committee ignored hearings about bills concerning teacher overtime or allowing domestic violence victims to terminate leases without penalty just to take this idea up a second time. He called it a waste of precious time with eight days left in the General Assembly’s session.
The Democrat from the city of Bamberg called the bill an invasion of privacy of some of society’s most vulnerable teens.
“Y’all don’t know what my sex organs are,” Bamberg said. “No one in this room does.”
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.