SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Over half way through the 2023 South Dakota Legislative Session, dozens of bills on a large variety of topics have been considered, debated, advanced and rejected. But are the lawmakers talking about what the people want?
KELOLAND News asked people out in downtown Sioux Falls what they think the priorities of the legislature should be.
If you would like to contribute and share your opinion on what lawmakers should be focused on, email your answer to email@example.com with the subject “Priorities.”
‘Election integrity’ has been a buzzword of sorts in recent months, and a trio of bills on the matter were recently rejected by a Senate committee, with an opponent saying they would only harass county auditors.
“If I had to choose, I think voting is a big deal right now. It has been for the past two years. That’s definitely one of the more national scale things that should be looked at,” Nathanuel Keckler said.
For Christopher Reistroffer, medical and recreational cannabis is a big issue on his mind.
“I think that’s something that’s on the minds of citizens within our great state. I think abortion rights are something that are very import right now,” Reistroffer said.
Cannabis has indeed been a hot topic in the legislature, with more than a dozen bills introduced this session that would impact the industry. While many have already been rejected, some have moved forward and could impact many areas of the industry.
“And then also I think what’s going on with our transgender community within our state, with regards to the policies being implemented by medical professionals and counselors alike has been a bit politicized for my taste,” Reistroffer added.
“Mental health is a big issue I guess, and as far as that’s related to crime and fentanyl and all the drugs — that’s by far number one,” Jim said.
House Bill 1079 was introduced to provide grants for mental health support and suicide prevention. The bill was referred to the Joint Committee on Appropriations at the end of January.
Mental health has also been broached in a number of different topics, ranging from debate around issues of gender identity and medical care to education, where some have argued that anti-public education legislation could impact students.
“I think overall the state’s economy is in pretty good shape. I guess as far as the abortion issues and so forth, I think there needs to be some — as far as women — have some rights, but I think there’s also some on both sides that are probably important,” Jim continued.
Housing was another topic on voters’ minds.
Issues of affordable housing have been raised in South Dakota, especially in places such as Sioux Falls, where the population continues to rise. A recent survey about what people would like to see done with a proposed new neighborhood in Sioux Falls saw several respondents raise the issue of the need for housing.
“I think the housing issue’s important — providing funding for more housing, especially low-income housing I mean — not McMansions, but for regular people because we need workers, and they need a place to live,” Comfort Hauck said.
In addition to child care, Hauck and others expressed a desire to address the child care crisis in South Dakota.
“I think childcare is important — I think private in-home childcare could use some help. I feel [lawmakers] always tend to jump onto issues which affect very few people and then get very passionate about that, and I would like to see them take care of the majority of citizens in South Dakota,” Hauck said. “I think taking care of education; teachers — I’m a teacher — so that’s important to me. We’re last in the nation, and the higher education, the college and tech schools; those are important issues for me.”
Laura Gross also has child care on her mind.
“I think there’s two things I’m noticing that stand out. One is the lack of childcare available for working families so that they can go back to work and have their kids taken care of, and also the recent — in the last maybe five years or more — decline in long term or nursing home care,” Gross said. “I think just as a community we’d be a little more compassionate if we looked at our babies and our elderly.”
The nursing care shortage is indeed an area of dire need in South Dakota, with the South Dakota Health Care Association calling the situation a “crisis quickly becoming a catastrophe.”
In 2022 alone, the state saw more than a half dozen nursing homes close.
Another issue catching voters attention in Sioux Falls has been state money.
“The first thing off the top of my head, reading headlines this morning, is the 300-some odd million budget surplus we have,” Donovan Fravel said. “The state’s looking at how they’re going to spend that. The biggest one would be student lunches. That’s a bill proposal that was unfortunately defeated in committee last I checked. The price tag on that was somewhere around $20-30 million so that’s something that our budget surplus could have funded for a couple of years — with a budget surplus like that and clear needs — feeding children should be something that’s fairly straight forward for the state to focus on.”
School lunch has indeed been a topic in recent days, as a Sioux Falls legislator raised the prospect of free school lunches for children in the state. As Fravel pointed out, the bill was rejected.
The topic of the budget surplus has also been on people’s minds in recent months, with the state announcing in 2022 that it had closed the fiscal year with a record surplus. Such surpluses often lead other states to start spending, but similar actions have not taken place in South Dakota.
If you’d like to tell us what you think the legislature should focus on, email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Priorities.“