PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A majority in the House of Representatives decided Tuesday to revise and expand South Dakota’s riot laws that a federal judge ruled last year were likely to be found in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The vote was 45-25 in favor of the bill. HB 1117 now goes to the Senate for consideration. Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, proposed the changes.
“So this bill aims to protect peaceful protest,” Representative Jon Hansen, a Dell Rapids Republican, said. “Rioting shuts down peaceful protest.”
More than one dozen tribal members had protested outside the Capitol earlier in the afternoon. They later came inside. State Highway Patrol troopers told the group to leave the second-floor rotunda when they became too loud and didn’t have a permit.
Representative Shawn Bordeaux, a Mission Democrat, said South Dakota taxpayers had to pay $180,000 to lawyers for the ACLU’s clients after the federal judge’s decision.
“The ruse here is that South Dakotans really want this, South Dakotans really need this,” Bordeaux said. “All I’m hearing here is division.”
Looming ahead is the Keystone XL pipeline project. It would cross through western South Dakota but avoid both the Cheyenne River and Rosebud reservations.
“It looks like we as South Dakotans have just resigned ourselves to sweeping it under the rug.” Bordeaux, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said.
Representatives Kelly Sullivan, Erin Healy and Linda Duba, all Sioux Falls Democrats, also spoke against the legislation. “I don’t know what that approach is today, but I know this isn’t right,” Healy said.
Representative Manny Steele, a Sioux Falls Republican, asked, “Are we a nation of laws, or aren’t we?” Steele said the proposed law would protect free speech.
Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Parade Democrat, asked what made this different from last year. Hansen replied the new legislation is more detailed and the old language was too broad for the judge to accept.
Lesmeister said he expects there will be a second lawsuit. He wondered, “How many more times do we have to do it?”
Representative Timothy Johns, a Lead Republican and a retired circuit judge, said the proposed law in part follows the same track as other laws that punish people for abetting crimes. He said there also are civil remedies for governments that incur expenses in responding to the events.
Representative Tim Rounds, a Pierre Republican, said he supported the concept but said the bill needs to be amended because felony penalties were beyond “the expense of the potential damages to everyday items such as a fence post.”
Spending $180,000 for the lawsuit last year was substantially less expensive than the $35 million that was spent in North Dakota during protests against the Dakota Access pipeline, according to Representative Tim Goodwin, a Rapid City Republican.
Goodwin said the judge’s decision created something South Dakota lawmakers could follow this year. “So we should have it right this time,” he said.
But Representative Ryan Cwach, a Yankton Democrat, said the proposed laws would be found unconstitutional again, because they would have a chilling effect on protected speech. He called for different legislation that would ensure peaceful protest.
Representative Peri Pourier, a Pine Ridge Democrat and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, called the legislation “a weaponization.” She asked what it meant if she raised her hand at a protest and she was clutching sweetgrass.
“So there’s different layers here,” Pourier said. “This is not a real solution.”
After the vote, House Speaker Steven Haugaard made a statement to the gallery. The Sioux Falls Republican voted against the bill. “Actually what it does is clear up the mess from last year,” he said. “I just ask for a continuing conversation.”