As pandemic intensifies, S.D. Legislature’s new leaders face decisions on running 2021 session

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Legislature’s Executive Board talked in private for more than an hour Monday about the COVID-19 situation and then had the departing chairman publicly announce that new faces moving into leadership would set the course of the 2021 session.

Senator Brock Greenfield said a subcommittee of House and Senate members who had been assigned August 31 to come up with recommendations would instead hand off the matter. “That baton will be passed to the planning committee that is comprised of the new leadership team,” the Clark Republican said.

The unofficial deadline is November 25, according to Greenfield. That is Thanksgiving eve. The session opens January 12. The Legislative Research Council has been advertising for temporary staff to work the session that runs through March. Greenfield said the November 25 deadline would allow for hiring decisions.

Republican Representative Bob Glanzer of Huron died from COVID-19 last spring. This fall, House Speaker Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, became deeply ill from it after the special session in October.

Haugaard wore a mask Monday during the Executive Board meeting, as did House Democratic leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls and Senator Jim Bolin, a Canton Republican. So did every LRC staff member who came into the Capitol meeting room. The LRC office has had some COVID-19 infections.

Three other board members around the table — Greenfield and Republican House members Spencer Gosch of Glenham and Chris Johnson of Rapid City — did not wear masks. Most of the rest of the 15 legislators on the board participated remotely. Several didn’t take part.

Gosch will be House speaker. He headed the subcommittee. Kent Peterson of Salem is the new House Republican leader, replacing Lee Qualm of Platte who was term-limited, and Johnson will be House Republican assistant leader, replacing Arch Beal of Sioux Falls.

In the Senate, Republican Lee Schoenbeck of Watertown was chosen to replace Greenfield as president pro tem. The Senate will have new Republican leaders in Gary Cammack of Union Center and assistant Mike Diedrich of Rapid City. They replace Kris Langer of Dell Rapids, who withdrew her candidacy for re-election, and Bolin.

Greenfield said some medical experts have been identified to work with the new leadership team. He said they would invite the governor and other members of the executive branch into talks so there could be uniform policies in the Capitol.

Greenfield acknowledged there are “concerns” about health of legislators, lobbyists and staff. He said no one wants to enact policies that aren’t enforceable and they don’t want to push away qualified candidates.

The Legislative Procedure Committee will make recommendations and the 105 legislators at the start of the 2021 session would make the final decisions, according to Greenfield. He said “the worst thing” that could happen was that the Executive Board tell the LRC staff how they plan to proceed and have it change in the first days of the session.

“And put everybody in a lurch,” Greenfield said.

Meanwhile the LRC staff continues to have new equipment installed so that the 2021 session could be conducted remotely more effectively, according to LRC director Reed Holwegner and interim technology chief Randy Stockwell.

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