PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Legislation that Governor Kristi Noem wants as a way to protect South Dakota security interests against foreign intelligence efforts has cleared its first test.

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 7-0 on Tuesday to send SB-185 forward to the full Senate.

It calls for creating a board to review purchases or leases of agricultural land by foreign persons or entities, with the governor deciding whether to allow a transaction to proceed.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Republican Sen. Erin Tobin, delivered the opening testimony. She serves on the committee. The lead House sponsor, Republican Rep. Gary Cammack, sat in the front row taking notes.

Mitch Richter for South Dakota Farmers Union was one of the opponents to SB185.
Mitch Richter for South Dakota Farmers Union was one of the opponents to SB185.

The committee’s support came despite a parade of agricultural trade groups, led off by South Dakota Farm Bureau president Scott VanderWal, that opposed the legislation. He preferred that the issue be handled on the federal level and said U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds has a bill pending in the Senate.

No ag groups testified on the governor’s side.

South Dakota Bankers Association and the South Dakota Association of Realtors also spoke against her bill.

The committee’s vote came one day before Noem was scheduled to speak about the threat from China in Washington, D.C.

Tobin called for the bill’s passage. “This is an issue we cannot leave in the hands of the federal government,” she said. People in her district want something done, she said: “We owe it to them to dig through this and figure it out. We owe it to our future.”

Republican Sen. Joshua Klumb backed her up. “This is a serious issue that needs serious conversation,” he said. “I don’t want to wait a year.”

Democrat Sen. Liz Larson said she didn’t know whether the bill should be kept going this session for further work or brought back in another year. She described it as “a really important issue that we not shove under the rug.”

“This is very unusual. This is a big deal,” Republican Sen. Al Novstrup said.

Republican Sen. Randy Deibert said he didn’t mind moving it to the full Senate so that all 35 members could weigh in. He said the bill needs a lot of work.

Republican Sen. Herman Otten said he preferred the issue be handled at the federal level so that all 50 states would be covered. But, he said, “Killing it now does not allow to work through those issues and fix them.”