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South Dakota governor Kristi Noem signed legislation Thursday restricting competition in female sports to biological women at the K–12 and collegiate levels.

“This is about fairness. Every young woman deserves an equal playing field where she can achieve success, but common sense tells us that males have an unfair physical advantage over females in athletic competition. It is for those reasons that only girls should be competing in girls’ sports,” Noem said in a press release when she announced the proposal in December. “Women have fought long and hard for equal athletic opportunities, and South Dakota will defend them, but we have to do it in a smart way.”

The signing ceremony could make amends for what some conservatives had criticized as Noem’s tepidness on the transgender issue after she rejected a similar bill that would bar biological boys from participating in girls’ sports. While at the time the move was condemned as a capitulation to special corporate interests, Noem argued that the specific bill would handicap South Dakota’s economy, given that organizations such as the NCAA were expected to retaliate with a boycott and litigation that would prove costly to the state.

Noem had instead issued an executive order pressing the board of regents, which controls South Dakota’s public universities, to make women’s sports exclusive to women but without the weight of a mandate.

The legislation enacted Thursday is a revised version that cleans up some of the precarious language of the original bill, Noem has said. It is framed to limit sports to the corresponding “biological sex” printed on an athlete’s birth certificate. Now that it’s been codified into law, it is a mandate.

“This legislation does not have the problematic provisions that were included in last year’s House Bill 1217,” Noem noted in December. “Those flawed provisions would have led to litigation for our state, as well as for the families of young South Dakota athletes — male and female alike.”

“Only female athletes, based on their biological sex, shall participate in any team, sport, or athletic event designated as being for females, women, or girls,” the legislation reads.

Additionally, multiple Republican states have joined to pass similar measures in a sort of coalition, so that South Dakota would not necessarily be isolated if it had to engage in legal battles.

“Given HB 1217’s problematic provisions, there was a higher risk of the entire bill being enjoined if South Dakota were to be sued by the NCAA. If that had happened, no girls in South Dakota would have been protected (at K–12 or collegiate level),” Noem spokesman Ian Fury told Fox News in December. “Now that other states have linked arms, as Governor Noem urged at the time, she is excited to protect girls’ sports at both the K–12 and collegiate level, just as she’s done with her executive orders.”

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