Democratic caucus requests House follow Senate COVID-19 rules; Republican leadership says procedures are working

KELOLAND.com Original

Rep. Jamie Smith and Sen. Troy Heinert discuss COVID-19 cases at the Capitol during a news Conference Thursday morning.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — After avoiding any COVID-19 cases during the first four weeks of the 96th Legislative Session, four South Dakota lawmakers have tested positive for the virus during the fifth week. 

On Thursday, both Republican and Democratic leadership members spoke about the recent positive COVID-19 cases during news conferences. Both had vastly different views on the issue. 

Rep. Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls) announced the Democratic caucus will send a letter to the Speaker of House asking for the House to follow the same masking requirement as the Senate. At the beginning of the session, the two chambers took different approaches with the Senate “requiring a face covering” while the House “encouraged” the use of masks. 

Rep. Smith, who admitted to being upset and frustrated with the current process, said legislators want to be in Pierre doing their jobs. He said he just doesn’t want people to be at risk and added the mask requirement is about taking care of your neighbor. 

He said he believes the letter asking for the same rules to be implemented in the House will be ignored. 

Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) added he’s more worried about the community of Fort Pierre and Pierre as well as the staff at the Capitol. He said the Department of Health has guidelines to follow about slowing the spread and what to do when positive cases occur. He said lawmakers should follow those same guidelines as the public does. 

Before the Democratic leaders spoke, House Majority Leader Kent Peterson (R-Salem) said lawmakers knew the virus was going to spread at the Capitol. He said there’s a process and procedures in place for when positive cases happen and those have been followed. He noted many people have been testifying during committee hearings remotely and highlighted across the state, COVID-19 numbers are going down.

Sen. Majority Leader Gary Cammack (R-Union Center) said the COVID-19 plan at the Capitol is working well. While there’s been positive cases this week, Cammack said one lawmaker led a committee hearing remotely out of caution. He said it worked pretty well.

When asked about disclosing active COVID-19 cases to the public, Sen. Cammack said just because a person is an elected official doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to privacy. Rep. Peterson agreed with Sen. Cammack and added he had no more comments about letting the public know what lawmakers have COVID-19.

Rep. Smith said he’d hope more lawmakers would let people know when others test positive as a way to notify close contacts. He also said more lawmakers should utilize the COVID-19 testing provided to them.  

Rep. Smith ended the news conference reminding people “when in doubt, get a test” referring to getting a COVID-19 test. 

Turning the conversation away from lawmakers dealing with COVID-19, Rep. Chris Johnson (R-Rapid City) said the current COVID-19 numbers are proving South Dakota took the right approach on COVID-19. He said the legislature is currently discussing items other states “can only dream of.”

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