First Juneteenth bill, changes to state government’s employee insurance both move to the Senate floor

KELOLAND.com Original

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, looks likely to become South Dakota’s next official holiday. 

There’s plenty of support for that decision, which would no longer make South Dakota one of three states not recognizing the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. However, a debate is brewing on what kind of holiday Juneteenth should be in South Dakota. 

That debate started in Wednesday’s Senate State Affairs Committee with Senate Bill 71, which would designate Juneteenth Day as a working holiday. Republican Sen. Jim Bolin, of Canton, proposed SB 71 to make Juneteenth the 12th “working holiday.”

Examples of other working holidays in South Dakota include: March 30 (Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day added in 2013), April 17 (Joe Foss Day added in 2004), the last Friday in April (Arbor Day added in 1998), June 25 (Little Big Horn Recognition Day added in 1994), the fourth Saturday of July (Day of the American Cowboy added in 2014), August 7 (Purple Heart Recognition Day added in 2013), August 27 (Peter Norbeck Day added in 2018), the third Friday of September (POW/MIA Recognition Day added in 2013), November 2 (Statehood Day added in 2001), December 15 (Bill of Rights Day added in 1998) and December 29 (Wounded Knee Day added in 1994).  

Another proposed bill, SB 89 would add Juneteenth as a state holiday and make June 19th a paid day off for state employees. South Dakota recognizes 11 state holidays: January 1 (New Year’s Day), January 18 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), February 15 (Washington’s Birthday), May 31 (Memorial Day), July 4 (Independence Day), September 6 (Labor Day), October 11 (Native American Day), November 11 (Veteran’s Day), fourth Thursday in November (Thanksgiving) and December 25 (Christmas Day).   

While South Dakota has not recognized Juneteenth in the past, Gov. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) issued a Juneteenth proclamation last summer. Proponent testimony from the South Dakota Education Association, the South Dakota Bankers Association, the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce and South Dakota Chamber of Commerce all noted South Dakota is becoming more diverse and supported the bill.   

Opponent testimony came from South Dakota Voices for Justice and two Sioux Falls citizens — Willette Capers and Chloe Clemnts. The opponents believed South Dakota lawmakers could go a step further in recognizing the impact of Juneteenth for a state holiday. 

Sen. Bolin said he believed three states — Texas, New York and Virginia — celebrate Juneteenth as a paid holiday and said the majority of states recognize the day as a working holiday.   

SB 71 passed to the Senate floor 7-2 with Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) and Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) voting against. SB 89 is still awaiting an assigned hearing date. 

SB 57, state employee health insurance changes moves forward 

Thousands of state employees could see changes with health insurance plans if SB 57 is passed into law.   

SB 57, requested by the South Dakota Bureau of Human Resources, would amend three sections of the state employee health plan and repeal one section involving a health plan for retiring employees. 

Human Resources Commissioner Darin Seeley said a state survey helped guide the changes and a proposal of four new health plans. Seeley said the changes would make the state of South Dakota a better employer. 

Eric Ollila with the South Dakota State Employees Organization opposed SB 57. He pointed out state employee health plans used to be tied with the successful state retirement system. He said the new health plans wouldn’t treat state employees equally. 

The bill passed to the Senate floor by a 6-3 vote with Sen. Heinert, Sen. Casey Crabtree (R-Madison) and Sen. Kyle Schoenfish (R-Scotland) opposing. 

Sen. Heintert opposed the bill and said he received a lot of emails concerned about the changes for state employees health insurance. Schoenbeck summarized the debate at the end by saying “you are never going to make everyone happy trying to solve health insurance.” 

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