COLUMBIA, S.C. — Democrats lined up more than 1,000 amendments in an attempt to delay a vote on a bill that would have South Carolina follow a number of other conservative states in banning transgender students from playing girls’ or women’s sports in public schools and colleges.
Republicans used a special maneuver to get the bill onto the House floor Tuesday with a key legislative deadline looming at the end of the week.
Democrats countered by filing four boxes full of amendments – an estimated 1,000 in all – to change the bill. Republicans immediately invoked a rule limiting debate to just three minutes per amendment. But if Democratic members keep taking their full time, it would still take more than 50 hours to go through each proposed change.
Democrats also requested the House take full two-minute roll calls on each amendment, meaning if everyone of them is taken up, the debate could theoretically last until around early morning Saturday if not well beyond.
State Rep. John King, a ream size box of paper on his desk and a thick binder of papers by him at the House podium, warned his colleagues “we’re going to be here a long time today.”
“I don’t believe we need to be debating something that is so frivolous,” the Democrat from Rock Hill said.
The legislation would require athletes to compete with the gender listed on their birth certificates. About a dozen states have already passed similar legislation, and transgender athletes have become an issue in midterm campaigns in such states as Pennsylvania. But Republicans aren’t in lockstep, with GOP governors in Indiana and Utah vetoing bans in their states.
Supporters of the bill were mostly staying quiet Tuesday to not prolong the debate. One amendment did pass creating girls’ wrestling teams in high schools.
The South Carolina High School League said it takes up what teams a transgender athlete can play for on a case-by-case basis and has heard fewer than five requests. Elected Republican Education Superintendent Molly Spearman is also against the proposal. The bill failed to get to the floor of the House last year.
But bill sponsor Rep. Ashley Trantham has said in the past that the bill is meant to keep girls’ and women’s sports fair in the future.
“The next generation of female athletes in South Carolina may not have the chance to excel in those same sports,” the Republican from Pelzer said at a committee meeting last year.
A similar bill has made it to the Senate floor but hasn’t been debated. The bill is facing a Sunday deadline to pass at least one chamber or it would need a two-thirds vote to be considered. That is a tough hurdle for a bill some Republicans have struggled to support.
Some amendments by Democrats would make substantial changes to the bill like allowing a public high school to opt out of the requirements. Others would do things like rename the proposal the “Discrimination Capital of the United States Act” or name individual schools or allow school bands to only play at women’s sporting events.
Occasionally, a Democrat would argue against an amendment, taking up another three minutes.
At least a dozen of the House’s 43 Democrats took turns speaking on the amendments. Republican House Speaker Jay Lucas abruptly interrupted them when their time was up.
Rep. Annie McDaniel was talking about statistics about mental health problems and suicide rates among transgender youth when Lucas unceremoniously told her ““Ms. McDaniel, your time on the amendment has expired.”
“All right,” the Democrat from Winnsboro said. “I’ll be back to finish telling you about this.”
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