‘Save Women’s Sports Act’ sent to South Carolina Senate floor

Published: Mar. 23, 2022 at 7:38 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 23, 2022 at 7:58 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The controversial “Save Women’s Sports Act” is now closer to becoming law in South Carolina than it has ever been.

The Senate Education Committee decided in a close vote Wednesday to advance the legislation, which would ban transgender girls and women from competing in girls’ and women’s sports, to the Senate floor for debate.

Twice last year, similar legislation was blocked in the House Judiciary Committee from being debated on the House of Representatives floor, but another effort toward the tail end of this two-year legislative session is now pushing the bill forward in both the House and the Senate.

But before Wednesday’s vote in the Senate committee, it faced a major challenge from senators from both parties, who tried to block it from progressing, at least for the time being.

They argued lawmakers needed to address key issues in the bill’s text first, or else proceedings could get messy in the Senate — or outside the State House, if it becomes law.

“When you’ve got problems like this going to the floor with two weeks left, you’re probably, you’re writing your own obituary right there, in my view,” Senate Education Chair Greg Hembree, R – Horry warned, saying the bill was “not ready for primetime” in the chamber for debate.

“This is a legal nightmare the way that it is done now,” Sen. Gerald Malloy, D – Darlington, echoed.

The original Senate version of the Save Women’s Sports Act would require athletes in public middle and high schools in South Carolina compete with the gender they were assigned at birth, and an earlier group of lawmakers heard testimony on this form of the bill at the subcommittee level.

But up for debate Wednesday was an expanded, amended version of the bill, which applies the restrictions to public colleges and universities, as well as private schools competing against public middle and high schools.

Pressed by Malloy and Hembree, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Republican Richard Cash of Anderson County, admitted the earlier panel did not solicit feedback on this version from South Carolina colleges or private schools, specifically.

Some lawmakers wanted to delay a committee vote on the bill until they heard viewpoints from those groups and then potentially reworked the text, fearing its present form could face legal challenges or open schools up to lawsuits.

“If we tailor a bill, we don’t want to send one up that some court’s going to strike down,” Malloy said.

But a larger group decided to move the legislation forward without it.

“Not passing something out of fear of a lawsuit is an endeavor in fruitlessness because someone could always file a lawsuit, no matter what you do,” Sen. Larry Grooms, R – Berkeley, said.

Cash and other senators make the argument private schools and colleges could still reach out to senators on an individual basis or as a group, though Malloy contended they should do so on the record.

“I have a lot of friends in the higher ed world. We’ve worked together on a lot of issues,” Sen. Scott Talley, R – Spartanburg, said. “I’ve heard from them about this bill. I don’t know that they care to weigh in. I don’t know that they want to weigh in.”

Senators also expressed concerns over the bill’s potential repercussions, especially at the collegiate level, where teams from other states without this type of legislation in effect could be scheduled to play South Carolina schools.

“If a University of X comes in, and all of a sudden, they have a person that is transgender on their team, what happens?” Malloy asked.

Cash responded that he didn’t know.

“I’ll just follow your hypothetical,” he continued. “If a girls’ basketball team came in here and had a transgender athlete that was 6-feet-11, and they beat the University of South Carolina, there might be a lot more interest in what we’re talking about.”

Other senators had questions about the NCAA’s threat to block states with this type of law on the books from hosting its championships.

South Carolina only recently came off that blacklist, when the General Assembly voted in 2015 to remove the Confederate flag from State House grounds.

Cash answered he could not predict how the NCAA would act.

“But senator, I do believe that it’s the right thing to do to protect women’s sports and sporting opportunities that they’ve worked 50 years since Title IX to have in these circumstances. I think it’s a fight worth having,” Cash said.

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.

The House version of the Save Women’s Sports Act has not advanced as far as the Senate version now has, as it awaits a meeting of the House Education and Public Works Committee.

Supporting lawmakers are looking to pass the bill in at least one of those chambers ahead of a key April 10 deadline, or else the legislation would die in both chambers.

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