Governor will offer nine new emergency bills to South Dakota legislators on final day

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem told reporters Friday her team has another packet of bills for the South Dakota Legislature to consider next week on the final day of the 2020 session.

The Legislative Research Council meanwhile posted a list of her draft legislation Friday. Long-time observers couldn’t recall another South Dakota governor making such an aggressive move so late.

Noem said her overall purpose with the nine bills was to provide a stronger response to the COVID-19 virus that is rapidly working its way around the globe.

So far in South Dakota it has killed one man, a Pennington County resident, who died in Davison County.

Globally COVID-19 has stirred havoc in the past few months, crushing stock markets at least temporarily and shutting down economies of many nations, including the United States.

In South Dakota, many lawmakers now plan to rely on the safety of technology Monday and cast their votes remotely, rather than return to the Capitol.

Many state legislators are men in the 60-plus age group. Some have underlying health conditions. Some fit both categories — and that puts them at great risk.

Advanced age and weak health have been found in the U.S. and many other countries to make people more susceptible to the pneumonia-like illness, for which there is no vaccine.

The legislators who do come to the Capitol will be required to use one entrance, where each lawmaker’s health conditions will be screened, the governor said Friday.

“We’re encouraging them if they’re not feeling well to obviously stay there (in their communities), if they’re part of the vulnerable population to not come to Pierre. There are a few that would choose to come here and we’re allowing that,” Noem said.

Noem has issued four vetoes — two outright, and two to have their style and form fixed — that will require action by lawmakers Monday.

As for the new bills, the governor said each would help deal with a specific aspect of South Dakota’s COVID-19 situation:

Draft 928 would make unemployment benefits available sooner. South Dakota saw a giant spike in unemployment claims filed last week.

Draft 929 would allow the state Health Department to declare COVID-19 a public health emergency.

Draft 930 would somewhat expand the governor’s emergency power.

Draft 931 would let the state education secretary waive required classroom hours for students. South Dakota schools have been closed since mid-March and students won’t be allowed back into school buildings until early May, at the earliest.

Draft 932 would grant the state health secretary certain authority during a public health emergency.

Draft 933 would waive some requirements such as standardized tests for K-12 students. The federal government has already dropped the testing requirement this year.

Draft 934 would extend various driver licenses and non-driver ID cards for 90 days past the end of the COVID-19 emergency. South Dakota driver-license stations are currently closed because of the governor’s current order directing non-essential state government employees under her control to work remotely, rather than go to their buildings and offices.

Draft 935 would let school districts and local governments delay spring elections and open absentee voting for a longer time. Many communities have been concerned that COVID-19 would discourage voter turnout and make poll workers more difficult to get, because people are being constantly reminded to keep a ‘social distance’ of at least six feet from other people. COVID-19 seems to be often transmitted through tiny droplets of spray when people speak or sneeze.

Draft 936 would give county governments broader emergency power during a public health crisis. Thirty of South Dakota’s 66 counties have populations below 5,000.

“Every single one of the bills that we are bringing has an emergency clause on it. That means as soon as they do pass them and I sign them into law, they will be enacted. Typically a bill doesn’t get enacted until July 1. That is not going to be true for these bills. Because we have an emergency clause on them, they will immediately be put into place and in statute as soon as I sign them,” Noem said.

“They’re all also temporary,” she continued. “They have sunsets on them, so they will expire, and I think that is the right decision that I have made, because we are doing this remotely, and legislators are voting using technology, that it is important these aren’t permanent statutes, that (they) are temporary to allow us to respond to the virus, and they will go away.”

Noem described the effect of COVID-19 on state government’s budget as significant.

“I am telling the legislators that I will sign bills that we did for the budget and sign them into law, but I’m not going to spend that money. We’re probably going to come back in June and have a special session and make some changes that are very significant to our state budget,” she said.

“Some of these they have already passed. I will sign them into law but I am choosing as governor to not spend those dollars. I will keep them and hold them, knowing that in June we’ll have a better picture of where we’re at when it comes to resources as a state, to continue to fight the virus and make sure that we’re doing due diligence and taking care of people and governing over the people of this state.”

She continued, “I also want to focus on the federal legislation. We know that the (U.S.) House just passed the CARES Act, which is a bill that should help us respond and take care of folks through this situation that we find ourselves in. We’re still looking at the details of that. There is some language and interpretation and guidance feedback that we will need to give the (Trump) administration in order for South Dakota to access some of that money. There is some dollars that will flow into those caregivers here in South Dakota that will be incredibly important in the future.”

Noem thanked South Dakota’s members in Congress — Senator John Thune, Senator Mike Rounds and Representative Dusty Johnson — for their work on it. “There’s still some hoops to jump through to make sure that we can utilize all the resources that are available to South Dakota and we’ll get that done,” she said.

Late Friday afternoon, the governor’s office released the last list of bills that she had signed into law. There also was a statement.

“At the moment, it is unknown how much relief the federal stimulus bills will give to South Dakotans,” Noem said. “I’m signing these 15 bills with one caveat – we may need to come back in June and make drastic changes to both the current budget and next year’s fiscal year budget. As we receive further guidance from the federal government on what resources may be available to us, I will provide updates to the Legislature and the public.”

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