South Dakota Legislature, Governor Shifting Toward More Personal Rights In Some Areas

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre Capitol building legislature

There is a growing push in South Dakota’s 2019 session of the Legislature for people to live as they want, rather than in systems local governments set.

This shift toward independence and away from trusting local officials gained ground during the past decade as the Legislature’s Republican membership rose.

The trend might have hit a new high last June.

Voters in South Dakota’s Republican primary for governor chose U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem over state Attorney General Marty Jackley.

This came in the wake of a shift rightward in the Legislature’s make-up.

House Republicans decided to put Representative Steven Haugaard of Sioux Falls on the path to be selected this year as their new speaker.

After the 2016 elections, House Republicans privately elected Representative Lee Qualm of Platte as their new leader.

In the Senate, Republicans chose Brock Greenfield of Clark over Gary Cammack of Union Center as their chamber’s top member.

The Capitol had already been tilting increasingly conservative and libertarian during the past decade.

The new governor quickly put exclamations points behind the movement. Since taking office January 5, she signed into law two measures that the previous Republican governor, Dennis Daugaard, had vetoed.

The first, SB 47, allows permit-free concealed carry of pistols. Greenfield and Qualm were the main sponsors.

Noem marked the occasion by holding a formal ceremony in the Capitol rotunda.

The historic governor’s desk displayed in her outer office was moved out there. Rows of legislators stood behind her as she put pen to paper.

The noon-time event occurred in front of the staircase between the second and third floors, the division between where the executive and legislative branches operate.

The second bill the new governor highlighted was HB 1040. It reduces the ACT score for home-schooled students to qualify for the state-funded Opportunity scholarship for higher education at a South Dakota campus.

Now home-schooled students won’t need to have a higher score than other students to qualify.

Its prime sponsor was Representative Sue Peterson. Its lead sponsor in the other chamber was Senator Jack Kolbeck. Both are Sioux Falls Republicans.

They brought a version of the measure last year, and the governor-appointed Board of Regents opposed it. This year, there wasn’t any opposition from the regents.

Another measure that found its way to House approval last week showed the influence on South Dakota issues of President Donald Trump. Last fall Trump campaigned in Sioux Falls at a private fund-raising event for Noem’s election.

HB 1172 essentially would prohibit elected leaders of South Dakota municipalities, counties and townships from designating their communities as sanctuaries for immigrants. It says local governments can’t prevent local law enforcement from communicating or cooperating with federal authorities on immigration matters.

Opponents included Presentation Sisters, South Dakota Municipal League, the statewide school administrators association and pro-immigrant group Voices for Justice.

The House Local Government Committee rejected it 7-6. But prime sponsor Representative Kevin Jensen, a Canton Republican who rose into House leadership ranks this year as a Republican whip, revived it.

Jensen used a decades-old process in the Legislature’s rules to force the committee to take a second look at his bill. The panel voted 8-5 to send it down without recommendation. House members then voted 44-25 to put it on the debate calendar. 

On the House floor, Jensen received approval to delete a controversial section of his bill: “Any law enforcement officer who refuses to communicate or cooperate with a federal agency or official in the enforcement of immigration laws is subject to disciplinary measures, including termination.”

Even with that change, Johnson wasn’t able to get the 36 ayes needed to pass the amended bill on the first try. It fell short 35-34 Wednesday. The ayes were: Brunner; Chaffee; Dennert; Frye-Mueller; Glanzer; Goodwin; Gosch; Greenfield (Lana); Hammock; Hansen; Howard; Jensen (Kevin); Johnson (Chris); Karr; Latterell; Livermont; Marty; Mills; Mulally; Otten (Herman); Perry; Peterson (Sue); Pischke; Post; Qualm; Randolph; Rasmussen; Reimer; Rounds; Steele; Weis; Wiese; York; Zikmund; and Haugaard.

On Thursday, with many news reporters focused on the Senate, Jensen reconsidered the bill and succeeded in reaching 36. The ayes were: Brunner; Chaffee; Dennert; Deutsch; Frye-Mueller; Glanzer; Goodwin; Gosch; Greenfield (Lana); Hammock; Hansen; Howard; Jensen (Kevin); Johnson (Chris); Karr; Latterell; Livermont; Marty; Mills; Mulally; Otten (Herman); Perry; Peterson (Sue); Pischke; Post; Qualm; Randolph; Rasmussen; Reimer; Rounds; St John; Steele; Weis; Wiese; York; and Haugaard.

From Wednesday to Thursday three Republicans changed their stances on the bill. Fred Deutsch of Florence and Tamara St. John of Sisseton went from no to yes. Republican Larry Zikmund of Sioux Falls switched from yes to no.

The immigration-enforcement measure now heads to the Senate, where the lead sponsor is Republican Lance Russell of Hot Springs, a lawyer who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A pro-parent / anti-school bill that came close to getting through the House last week was HB 1116 from Representative Julie Frye-Mueller. The Rapid City Republican wanted to require parental consent for schools to conduct some physical examinations on students.

In the House committee hearing, Frye-Mueller’s proposal had support both from the South Dakota Dental Association, in return for an amendment exempting dental exams, and Tonchi Weaver of Rapid City, representing South Dakota Citizens for Liberty.

The statewide organizations for school boards and school administrators opposed it. The bill tied 34-34 in its first House vote Wednesday. Frye-Mueller’s attempt to reconsider it failed 32-37 Thursday.

The House on Tuesday approved HB 1108 that would prohibit public schools from teaching about gender dysphoria – confusion over whether children are boys or girls – in kindergarten through grade seven. House members voted 39-30 for the measure from Representative Tom Pischke, a Dell Rapids Republican.

Republican Phil Jensen of Rapid City is the lead Senate sponsor. He said he’s confident the gender-dysphoria ban would get through the Senate next.

Noem’s administration didn’t take a public position on any of those three during committee hearings.

The governor also didn’t take a hearing position on HB 1056, sponsored by Representative Sue Peterson, which would require the attorney general to take action against any municipal, county or township government that had local ordinances regarding firearms.

The House on February 8 passed it 53-16, despite opposition from associations representing municipal and county governments. State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg didn’t take a public position at either of the two House committee hearings on it, even though his office would be directly affected by it. 

The Senate State Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing Wednesday. Republican Lynne DiSanto of Box Elder is the lead sponsor in the Senate.

Noem hasn’t done well so far in opposing some measures.

SJR 2, would allow voters statewide to decide whether to allow sports betting in Deadwood and tribal casinos. The Senate passed it 18-14 Wednesday, after Senator Reynold Nesiba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, changed to a yes in the moments before the roll-call result could be announced.

Senator Bob Ewing, a Spearfish Republican who ousted Republican incumbent Tom Nelson of Lead in a 2012 primary, is prime sponsor. Representative Timothy Johns, a Lead Republican, is lead sponsor in the House where the resolution goes next.

The House meanwhile rolled through HB 1192 that would legalize production industrial hemp. Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Parade Democrat, had plenty of House co-sponsors from both political parties.

Noem strongly spoke against passage of the hemp bill at her two most-recent weekly legislative-session news conferences. Her administration testified against both measures during committee hearings.

But Noem has no formal power regarding the sports-gambling resolution, which is solely up to the Legislature to decide if lawmakers should put it on the ballot.

The hemp-legalization bill passed by a seemingly veto-proof margin 65-2. Noem voted last year for the federal Farm Bill, which included a hemp-growing provision from U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Noem said Thursday her administration wasn’t ready this year for a state law legalizing hemp and that it would open the way to marijuana transportation in South Dakota.

Noem’s one veto so far as governor blocked a seemingly straight-up SB 14 giving the state Public Utilities Commission authority to regulate solar-power projects.

She said it was written, perhaps inadvertently, to allow the commission to go much farther. The Senate agreed, voting 30-1 to sustain her veto.

In her veto letter, the governor chastised the commission, who are elected but operate under her Department of Labor and Regulation, for independently proceeding without conducting negotiations with the electricity industry that in her opinion weren’t adequate.

The legislation had gone through the Senate 31-3 and the House 61-4.

Click here to view the veto letter. 

Several weeks ago, Municipal League executive director Yvonne Taylor prevailed over Speaker Haugaard in a federal lawsuit over his decision to ban her from lobbying on the House floor.

The House floor generally is open to anyone who wants to contact a representative except in the hours immediately before and after each day’s session.

Taylor had written an article last May for her organization’s monthly magazine expressing her concern about the Legislature’s increasing number of what she labeled as “wackos.”

State lawyers settled with her attorney, former House Republican leader David Lust of Rapid City, with Haugaard agreeing to reinstate her lobbying privileges, promising he wouldn’t retaliate and paying her legal fees for the case.

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