Both Democratic, Republican leaders highlight passage of needs-based, Freedom scholarship bill Original

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — There’s at least one bill both Democratic and Republican leaders alike were eager to praise for passing during the 2021 session. 

That bill was Senate Bill 171, which “appropriates from the general fund the sum of $50,000,000 to the Bureau of Finance and Management, for purposes of funding the South Dakota needs based-scholarship endowment, to be called the South Dakota Freedom Scholarship endowment.”  The Freedom scholarship will be South Dakota’s first needs-based scholarship. It’ll be created with a $200 million endowment, $150 million from private donors and $50 million from state funds. 

SB 171 passed the Senate convincingly 32-1 and it passed the House 52-17 on Wednesday. 

During news conferences Thursday, legislative leaders from both parties and Gov. Kristi Noem celebrated the Freedom scholarship, which would generate about $8 million every year to be distributed to public universities, private colleges and tribal colleges.  

House Minority Leader Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls) said Democrats in Pierre have spent years trying to find ways to fund a needs-based scholarship. He thanked the governor for supporting the cause this year. 

“Being able to put that into an endowment that actually is an investment in our kids and our future of the state. That’s really meaningful,” Smith said. “That’s something we’ve worked on for a very long time. It’s been a priority of ours for years.” 

House Majority Leader Kent Peterson (R-Salem) called the Freedom scholarship an “incredible opportunity” and a “life-changer” for future students.

“It’s something we’ll look back in 10, 20, 30 years and be very proud of what we’ve done,” said Peterson, who added the Freedom scholarship is an example of using state money to create a positive change. “I look forward to the bill signing with the governor.” 

Gov. Noem said Thursday she’s looking forward to signing the bill into law and “increasing educational opportunities for students that may not have the financial means to pursue that higher education and degree.” 

Lawmakers stay mostly silent on Ravnsborg impeachment 

Both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders took turns dodging questions of the future of impeachment proceedings surrounding South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. On Wednesday morning, the House State Affairs Committee unanimously voted to halt the impeachment proceedings until Ravnsborg’s legal process finishes. 

Smith noted impeachment isn’t a legal proceeding, but didn’t want to comment about any possible future action. He did say “the concern is still there.”   

Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) said the House was wrong to respond to a gag order from a judge to delay impeachment until the court process finishes. 

“This isn’t a criminal trial,” Heinert said. “We should be doing the work of what the impeachment articles and impeachment process looks like.” 

In the Republican leadership news conference, Rep. Peterson pointed to previously released statements where he said “a premature public proceeding” may hinder Ravnsborg’s due process. Peterson noted the judge’s ruling would make it harder for lawmakers to “gather information.” He pointed out the impeachment amendment was unanimously supported by lawmakers in the House State Affairs Committee. 

Peterson said he couldn’t speculate if any future impeachment proceedings will happen this year. He said lawmakers will reevaluate after the judicial system finishes. 

Ravnsborg is scheduled to make his initial court appearance at 4 p.m. on Friday, March 12 in Hyde County.

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