Governor wanted, and legislators gave, more ways for South Dakota to out-wait COVID-19

Capitol News Bureau

March 30, 2020 | Courtesy Patrick M. Callahan

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A lawmaker’s protest that remote voting shouldn’t be allowed didn’t stop the South Dakota Legislature from passing a powerful fistful of new bills Monday.

Governor Kristi Noem sought 11 new emergency measures on the session’s final day, so that South Dakota could try to be more effective against the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Nine passed, the last at about 3 in the morning. But let’s start with two that definitely failed.

House members voted 50-17 against HB 1297 that would have given the state health secretary the power to close or restrict any private or public facility to slow the spread of a communicable disease.

The power would have applied only during a public health emergency or a governor-declared emergency.

The House also defeated SB 191 that would have let counties, municipalities and community improvement districts enact emergency and temporary ordinances to suppress disease.

Republican senators killed the only new bill that came from a legislator. They refused 28-7 to loosen absentee-ballot provisions that Democrat Reynold Nesiba of Sioux Falls wanted.

The governor meanwhile saw her two vetoes sustained in the Senate, after the House voted unanimously to override them.

Approximately two dozen legislators came to the Capitol. Arrangements allowed about 80 lawmakers to participate remotely, through government-supplied laptops. Monday was the first time anyone could recall legislators voting on bills without being at the Capitol.

Fear that lawmakers might spread the potentially deadly respiratory illness, whether among themselves or when they returned to their communities, was why so many stayed away.

House members quickly set aside a challenge from Representative Tom Pischke, a Dell Rapids Republican, who questioned whether remote voting could go ahead.

Yellow sheets of paper served as signs, some urging people to keep six feet of distance between one another, and others setting nine-person limits per room, that stood out on doors and walls throughout the two floors the Legislature uses in the Capitol.

Sad news arrived about 11:45 p.m. when House Republican leader Lee Qualm announced that another lawmaker, Republican Representative Bob Glanzer of Huron, likely wasn’t going to make it. He had been hospitalized for two weeks with COVID-19.

House members later prayed for the Glanzer family.

It was a somber finish to a day that started much better.

The 35 senators moved rapidly through their first eight hours of work. The 67 representatives handled half as much in the same timespan, partially because they held hearings on their first four new bills, then argued at length over accepting or defeating amendments to them.

The evening’s work in the House went long too, as representatives conducted the hearing process a second time, for the bills the Senate had sent over.

A comment from Senator Jeff Monroe summarized the chambers’ difference of pace. The Pierre Republican stopped in the House about 2 p.m. Representative Tina Mulally, a Rapid City Republican, asked what the Senate was doing.

“Sitting over there twiddling our thumbs,” Monroe replied, “waiting for you guys.”

Here’s what lawmakers and the governor got done for South Dakota on Monday:

Representatives wouldn’t agree to the Senate version of the legislation to let counties, municipalities and improvement districts to adopt emergency and temporary ordinances to suppress disease. Needing 47 ayes to pass it, the House fell eight short, 39-27.

Representative Mike Diedrich, a Rapid City Republican who is a lawyer, tried to resurrect it with an amendment that changed the word “an” to “any” in several spots, and Representative David Anderson, a Hudson Republican, lost his amendment to remove the emergency clause on a 25-41 vote. Representatives then refused it a second time, falling 10 ayes short, 37-29.

Approved SB 193 to let state government use $93 million of additional federal aid for its current fiscal 2020 budget that runs through June 30, and to roll any of that money leftover into the 2021 budget that starts July 1.

Senator John Wiik said the budget changes are necessary because of COVID-19. The Big Stone City Republican said $55 million will go into a new COVID-19 relief fund.

Senator Brock Greenfield said the federal funding provides “some assurance” while the governor and legislators get a better idea of what the Clark Republican described as the financial “lay of the land” going into a special session tentatively planned for June.

Senators voted for it 33-2. Representatives agreed 66-0.

Approved SB 187 to make unemployment benefits available to people whose jobs have been affected by COVID-19. Senators voted for it 35-0, and representatives agreed 66-0.

Approved SB 188 to let the state education secretary waive minimum hours that K-12 schools must hold classes. Senators voted for it 35-0. House Republicans quarreled whether to limit it to the current school year, and Secretary Ben Jones texted House Republican leader Lee Qualm that Jones didn’t think he would have information from school districts to make the July deadline. The House amendment failed, and representatives then agreed with the Senate 66-0.

Approved SB 189 to lift some other requirements on K-12 schools for the current school year, such as standardized assessments. Senators voted for it 35-0, and representatives agreed 67-0.

Approved SB 190 to allow driver licenses and other forms of identification be in effect for up to 90 days after expiration of an emergency order. Senators voted for it 35-0, and representatives agreed 67-0.

Approved SB 192 to create a $10.5 million state sub-fund in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to make loans, up to $75,000 apiece, to help small businesses affected by COVID-19. Money would come from other under-used state programs.

Senate Republican leader Kris Langer of Dell Rapids said the state Board of Economic Development would review each loan. Senator Jeff Partridge, a Rapid City Republican, said there would be a public document for each loan. Senators voted for it 33-2.

In the House, Democratic Representative Ryan Cwach of Yankton proposed an amendment to remove a confidentiality clause. House Democratic leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls said Steve Westra, the governor’s commissioner of economic development, supported the change.

Republicans Hugh Bartels of Watertown and Chris Karr of Sioux Falls spoke against Cwach’s amendment. But they were countered by another Republican, Herman Otten of Lennox: “More transparent, in my opinion,” Otten said. The amendment failed 29-38.

Republican Representative Kevin Jensen of Canton offered an amendment that he said was friendly to the borrower because it added several criteria for loans, including that the interest rate wouldn’t be greater than zero percent. “The goal of this bill is to help people,” Karr said. Jensen’s amendment was supported 55-12.

Representatives voted 61-6 for the Jensen version. That meant it needed to go back to the Senate. The House clock showed 11:05 p.m.

Approved HB 1296 expanding circumstances when a governor can declare an emergency. Representatives voted for it 62-4, and senators agreed 26-9.

Approved HB 1295 adding coronavirus respiratory syndrome to the list of diseases when quarantines could be ordered. But House members removed the emergency clause, meaning it would take effect July 1 rather than immediately, and voted 46-21 to pass it.

Senators amended the emergency clause back into the bill, changed the name of the disease to COVID-19, and sent it back to the House. Representatives then agreed to the Senate version 54-12.

Most of the legislation expires July 1, 2021.

Approved the House version of HB 1298 that would allow local election dates to be changed. The Senate concurred after 3 a.m.

House members meanwhile voted 67-0, twice, to override the governor’s vetoes of HB 1012 and HB 1013 that were intended as updates of a long list of technical corrections to state laws. But both bills died in the Senate, when the smaller chamber didn’t summon enough ayes to follow the House lead.

Senator Lance Russell, a Hot Springs Republican, said no one opposed the changes at the Senate committee’s hearings. “I frankly can’t figure out why it was vetoed,” Russell said, calling the vetoes “nothing more than mean-girl’s politics.”

Needing a two-thirds majority of 24 to override, senators fell two short on the veto of 1012, voting 22-13. Likewise, the override fell short of overriding the veto of 1013, on a 23-12 vote.

Senators agreed to the governor’s proposed changes to SB 20 dealing with juvenile offenders and SB 75 requiring a habitat stamp on most licenses issued by the state Game, Fish and Parks Department.

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