S.D. House speaker wants COVID-19 session

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre Capitol building legislature

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The presiding officer for the South Dakota House of Representatives said Monday he believes enough of the chamber’s members would support a special legislative session.

House Speaker Steven Haugaard of Sioux Falls said his letter to the governor contained 46 signatures from representatives who want a voice in how state government should spend hundreds of millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 aid.

The South Dakota Constitution says lawmakers can call themselves into a special legislative session with signatures from two-thirds of each chamber — 47 of the 70 House members and 24 of the 35 senators.

Haugaard said he’s confident there are more House members than the 46 who put their names on the letter. He didn’t contact anyone in the Senate, where the political split is 30 Republicans and five Democrats, but he said there is support.

“I think all the Democrats on the Senate side want a special session and a lot of Republicans too,” he said.

Haugaard, as speaker, is co-chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Board that oversees operations outside the winter regular session. The board is scheduled to meet August 31 but Haugaard said Monday he’s trying to pull together a special meeting before then.

The Legislative Research Council — the lawmakers’ non-partisan professional staff — wants the board’s direction before assisting with holding public meetings for business owners and other citizens to tell their stories about the effects of COVID-19 on their bottom lines.

A senior aide to Governor Kristi Noem told KELOLAND News that the Republican governor wants further federal guidance before deciding on a special session. The aide, Maggie Seidel, said Friday a majority of the Legislature didn’t want one at this time, a statement opposite to Haugaard’s count.

The governor also has the power to call the Legislature into special session.

“It’s a ton of money,” Haugaard said. “That’s why I think we have to have a special session.”

He said the situation is comparable to the financial crisis that farmers fought in the 1980s. South Dakota legislators as a group went to Washington, D.C., to make their case.

“There are a lot of people on the ropes with their businesses,” Haugaard said. He suggested lawmakers could work with U.S. Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds and U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson to get leeway to steer more of the federal aid their way.

“I’d like to think there’s something that fits within those parameters,” Haugaard said. It’s not just South Dakota, either, he added, mentioning conversations with counterparts in the Montana and Idaho legislatures. “I think all the states are in a quandary,” he said.

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