PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem started the 2023 State of the State with a clear message: South Dakota is thriving.

Noem’s speech kicked off the 2023 legislative session and set the tone for her office’s priorities as lawmakers gather over the next three months to work on legislation. Those priorities included growing the state’s economy, protecting South Dakota, and the country, from foreign influence, and building stronger families.

Beginning her speech, Noem told lawmakers that South Dakota is growing, thriving and “we are strong.”

“Our state’s agriculture industry is now a $32 billion industry, and it’s responsible for 1 in 5 jobs in the state,” Noem told lawmakers.

Noem said that South Dakota is number one in the country for personal income growth and has the fastest growth of housing developments and most family-owned businesses.

“That’s part of how we make families stronger,” Noem said.

After thanking and honoring service members, Noem said she believes South Dakota is the freest state in the nation.

“Our nation was built on Freedom – but our constitutional freedoms are under assault from Washington D.C.,” Noem said.

‘Now is the time’ for tax cuts

Turning to taxes, Noem said that as the state continues to have record surpluses, taxes should be cut to provide relief to South Dakotans.

The position to cut the grocery sales tax has long been held by state Democrats and found bipartisan support during the 2022 session before eventually failing. During the November election cycle, Noem came out in support of cutting the tax, promising constituents that she would make it a priority if reelected.

Over the last few months Noem said that she has been visiting grocery stores across the state, including Fair Market in Sioux Falls, and has witnessed shoppers unable to afford food.

“Fair Market’s customers will greatly benefit from the elimination of the sales tax on groceries – but so will every South Dakota family, every person, every small business owner, even every homeowner,” Noem said.

Despite a thriving economy, Noem said that there are still 23,000 open jobs across South Dakota. Referencing past legislation to bring in workers from out of state, Noem said that there is an “opportunity” and “path” to recognize licenses of “just about every profession in the state.”

Noem said that while South Dakota is having an impact across the country and the world, federal vaccine mandates and the Biden administration is inhibiting growth here at home.

Continuing against vaccination mandates, Noem said that a Canadian business that she cannot name at this time has been in touch with her office with plans to grow in the Black Hills area.

“They want to grow their business and improve their quality of life here in our state. The Biden Administration’s vaccine mandates are standing in their way,” Noem said.

Noem also said that the Department of Labor will bring a bill to revise employer contribution rates to the unemployment trust fund.

“This will bring an estimated $18 million savings to South Dakota businesses over the next couple of years,” Noem said.

Turning to tourism, Noem said that the state expects to set another record for visitor spending in 2022. She added that tourism in South Dakota decreases the tax burden by $1,000 per South Dakota family.

As of August of 2022, the eastern part of the state was outpacing western South Dakota in visitor spending. Rapid City was also seeing a decrease in number of visitors this summer.

New to the Department of Tourism, a marketing campaign for Native American tourism will launch this year.

“Beginning in 2023, bus tours will bring both domestic and international visitors to Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, and Milk’s Camp. We will continue to emphasize telling tribal stories,” Noem said.

Building stronger families

Switching gears again, Noem said that her administration will continue to build stronger families including expanding paid family leave for state employees.

Following the fall of Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision, Noem said it was time to talk about paid family leave and included it in her FY202324 budget.

“Private sector companies will have the opportunity to be a part of the state’s risk pool, as well. This will make it much cheaper for companies to offer this benefit to their employees,” Noem said. “And the more people that buy in, the lower the cost will be for everyone.”

Noem added that her budget would provide $1.1 million to help with pregnancy and postpartum care for mothers who receive Medicaid.

Not mentioned was the topic of abortion.

Following the fall of Roe over the summer, Noem immediately called for a special session on abortion that never happened. Then-legislative candidates on both sides of the aisle expressed a desire to clarify South Dakota’s trigger ban to either allow for exceptions or further restrict access to abortion care.

Abortion may still be a topic that legislators in Pierre want to explore further, but it is not an immediate priority of the governor who said in July that “In the last few weeks, it has become clear that South Dakota is the most pro-life state in the nation… we are of one mind that South Dakota can prepare to advance on our progress in the regular legislative session, and a special session will not be necessary.”

Adoption, though, is on the governor’s radar.

“And we’ll also help families adopt children who are in need of a loving home. During my time as Governor, I have emphasized adoption as an area where we can improve as a state,” Noem said.

After thanking state employees who have adopted children, Noem referenced her “Stronger Families Together” initiative to recruit 200 foster families ever year and said that recruitment contacts are up in the second year.

In November of 2022, there were more than 100 children eligible for adoption but the Department of Social Services was in need of more families willing to adopt siblings, older children and children with medical and behavioral needs.

In addition to recruiting new families, Noem announced the “Stronger Families Scholarships” proposal that would provide up to $4,000 for children ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade to be used on tuition, tutoring, curriculum, or standardized or AP exams.

On the topic of child care, Noem said that there will be an overhaul of child care rules and regulations and almost $40 million in federal grants for childcare providers to address the child care crisis in the state.

Child care continues to be an ongoing crisis for South Dakota families who struggle to find affordable care and for child care providers who cannot find staff to accommodate the growing industry.

Addressing China, security

Noem said that the Chinese Communist Party is the greatest challenge facing the United States, pointing to the popularity of the social media platform, TikTok.

“It’s possible they could be using the app to gather users’ keystrokes – which means the Chinese Communist Party could have access to the financial information of tens of millions of Americans. This is an unacceptable security threat coming from a nation that hates America,” Noem said.

In November, Noem banned state agencies and employees from using TikTok on state devices.

In addition to her crusade against TikTok, Noem wants to prevent “nations that hate us” from purchasing South Dakota agricultural land.

“This legislation will create a board called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States – South Dakota, or CFIUS-SD,” Noem said.

Noem then thanked first responders and frontline workers for keeping the state secure.

Concluding the address, Noem said that her administration is just getting started.