Senate gives final approval to defining dyslexia in South Dakota law

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Legislation that would add a definition of dyslexia to South Dakota law will soon be on the way to the governor’s desk.

The state Senate voted 34-1 Monday for HB 1175, as the bill’s prime sponsor, Republican Representative Nancy Rasmussen of Hurley, watched from the gallery.

Senator Blake Curd, a Sioux Falls Republican, told the story of his family’s daughter who was diagnosed as dyslexic during her senior year of high school.

“I think it’s the right step for South Dakota,” Curd said.

But the debate took an odd turn along the way.

Senator Susan Wismer, a Britton Democrat, said the state Department of Education already has a dyslexia handbook on its website.

Wismer said the department has a five-year plan and the handbook has a definition that “word for word” matched the legislation.

She said the legislation wouldn’t do anything and she called for the Legislature to instead better fund special education, so school districts could add staff. She described supporting the bill as an “empty” vote.

That brought a sharp response from Curd, who said he’s never taken an empty vote. “It should give us all pause when we make comments like that,” Curd said.

Wismer was the lone “nay” during the roll-call vote that followed.

During the debate Senator Brock Greenfield, a Clark Republican, said he wants to see South Dakota put the definition in law. “For every person it affects, it affects a whole lot of family members,” Greenfield said.

Senator V.J. Smith, a Brookings Republican, said South Dakota was the only state in the nation that didn’t have dyslexia defined in law.

“I want to ask the body, do we ever get tired of being last?” Smith asked.

Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert of Mission said the definition is important for special-education families so that they know they matter.

The House approved it 58-10 last week. Here’s the language Governor Kristi Noem will consider:

“For the purposes of this chapter, dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede the growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

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