David Lias

Talk about government overreach. Talk about government getting involved in a place where it doesn’t belong.

We’re seeing that happen in Pierre right now after lawmakers have devoted attention this week to a proposed law, which was expected to go up for a vote in the South Dakota House of Representatives on Wednesday, that would bar doctors from prescribing hormones or puberty-blocking medication or performing transgender surgeries on anyone under the age of 16.

This column is being written a day before the vote is scheduled. I’m hoping the bill fails.

Throwing the legislation into the trash can doesn’t mean all discussion of this issue should end, though. There’s something insidious going on in South Dakota – within our politically red state that just doesn’t like the government interfering with our lives and telling us what we can and can’t do – within reason, of course.

We have some lawmakers (one in particular -- Representative Fred Deutsch) who keep trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. In the process, he creates a lot more trouble than he could ever hope to solve.

Deutsch is the guy who blessed us all with his “bathroom bill” in 2016 to regulate the restroom choice of transgender people. Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed the bill, which critics called discriminatory.

Now Deutsch has gotten it into his head that teenaged transgender youth in South Dakota are receiving unnecessary medical procedures. The proposed law, which originally was expected to go up for a vote in the state’s House of Representatives on Monday, would bar doctors from prescribing hormones or puberty-blocking medication or performing transgender surgeries on anyone under the age of 16.

The bill has strong support from social conservatives in the Republican-controlled Legislature, who believe it would enforce a common-sense view: that transgender youths under 16 are too young to begin taking medication or hormones.

My initial reaction may have been the same as yours. What in the heck is Deutsch talking about? Why is the Legislature listening to him? Why is Deutsch and those who follow him in Pierre so worried about something that’s really none of their business?

Deutsch, a chiropractor, said in a New York Times report he had received input on the legislation from the Kelsey Coalition, a parent group that opposes hormone treatment for transgender children, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., whose leaders declined an interview request, as well as other groups. Deutsch said he had also given drafts of his bill to lawmakers in other states considering similar measures.

“This bill came out of that feeling of, ‘We need to protect our children,’” he said, comparing the legislation to a “pause button.” “When you turn 16 you can do whatever you want. But by golly, can’t you just wait before you take these drugs?”

Well, no. Not when Fred’s bill contradicts medical best practices.

The Times notes that it is relatively uncommon for teenagers in South Dakota to undergo gender-affirming surgery, such as mastectomies for transgender boys, because most medical professionals advise waiting until adulthood for permanent procedures.

The bill would affect far more teenagers who are prescribed puberty blockers, injections or implants that are frequently administered to children who are experiencing gender dysphoria as a way to pause the process of puberty.

But those treatments worry advocates of the bill, who say they are concerned that children are not old enough to decide whether they want to delay puberty. “We are a coalition of parents who are standing together to stop the harming of children,” said Lynn Meagher, a parent from Washington State.

Medical professionals who treat transgender youth said that the medicines could be lifesaving, helping to diminish anxiety, depression and suicidal behavior. For many transgender teenagers, the development of their bodies during puberty — particularly the growth of breasts — can deepen their psychological stress.

Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat and an economics professor, told the New York Times that his primary concern with the bill was the way it was being framed.

“Here we are in the Capitol in Pierre, S.D., at a great distance, trying to influence a decision that is so personal and really needs to be made by the child, the parent and the physician,” he said. “And from the evidence I’ve seen, there is no evidence that physicians are doing harm.”

South Dakota, it turns out, is a breeding ground for whacky legislation that people like Deutsch can dream up.

The Times notes that South Dakota’s supermajority of Republicans in Pierre make South Dakota a proving ground for conservative legislation. Our Capitol building has become a Petri dish, of sorts, to see what legislation can be brought to life on a variety of issues such as abortion, gun rights and, in recent years, transgender rights.

One reason the state is appealing for such experimentation: Every bill introduced in South Dakota is guaranteed a public hearing.

If an issue survives in South Dakota, that can make it easier for conservative groups to pitch a policy to lawmakers in other states. This year, bills restricting medical care for transgender children have also been introduced in Colorado, Florida, Missouri and South Carolina, though none of those bills have advanced out of committee.

By the time you’re reading this, Deutsch’s bill will hopefully be history. The fact that he filed yet another piece of legislation that greatly affects transgender youth has us worried though. Deutsch has proven that he just can’t mind his own business. If this bill fails, he’ll likely be back with something else.

That’s why it’s time for South Dakotans who truly care about ALL of our youth, including transgender young people whose future, desired medical treatment is being put at risk, to appeal directly to Gov. Kristi Noem.

“As you may recall in my inaugural address, I told you about my desire to be a governor for the next generation. The North Star that guides my every decision is the impact a policy, a piece of legislation, or program will have, not only on South Dakotans today, but also on the next generation,” Gov. Noem said in her State of the State address earlier this year.

In her speech, which touched on a wide range of topics, she talked about our state’s youth and some of the challenges they face.

“Many of our kids have barriers to success that come from outside the classroom. A child’s potential can certainly be blocked due to reasons beyond their control,” the governor said.

At the time, she wasn’t talking about the challenges facing transgender youth. She was talking about stuff we’re more used to hearing from politicians – securing jobs for our students after they graduate.

Transgender youth, to deal with issues beyond their control, need to receive a few assurances from us grown-ups, especially the ones we elect and send to Pierre.

They need to know that the state will not, year after year, be making another attempt to become involved in decisions that should be made solely by them, their families and their physicians.

They need to know that state lawmakers will heed the advice of medical professionals who treat transgender youth. They need to be assured that medicines that allow them to control the development of their bodies and, in turn, diminish anxiety and depression and suicidal behavior will not be withheld from them.

They need to be assured that our governor has their back. She should do all that is possible to help transgender youth meet their potential.

Gov. Noem can do that by sending a clear message to the Legislature: she will not allow our state to serve as a Guinea Pig for every far-fetched, conservative monstrosity of legislation just to see if it can be brought to life here.

At a news conference last Friday, the governor expressed “a few concerns” about the legislation restricting medical treatment.

“When you take public policy and try to fill parenting gaps with more government, you have to be very careful about the precedent you’re setting,” she told reporters.

Gov. Noem has not said publicly whether she would sign the bill, should it be approved.

Please let her know that there is no room for this type of harmful legislation in the great state of South Dakota.

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