Note to readers: This daily report will appear each working day of the South Dakota Legislature’s 2021 session that runs through March 29.
TO MASK OR NOT: The Legislature’s two chambers get to set their own rules for operating. That’s one reason the Senate has a strict approach to wearing face coverings during the pandemic while the House of Representatives is less restrictive for the 2021 session. But there’s a bigger explanation.
The South Dakota Constitution gives legislators privilege from arrest during session, including going to and from the Capitol, except for “treason, felony or breach of peace.”
There’s also a belief among some legislators who’ve had COVID-19 that they now can’t infect others.
Meanwhile the Legislature’s unified approach that all people who aren’t lawmakers must wear masks on the Capitol’s third and fourth floors seems to be working. At a House committee hearing Tuesday, masks were worn by all of the state government employees from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
GAINING PACE: There were 148 bills posted on the LRC website as of 6 a.m. CT Wednesday. (Click on the gray square for the list.) Among the latest is a proposal from Senator Jim Bolin that could have some bearing on the legislative redistricting process that will occur later this year.
The Canton Republican wants lawmakers to add to their redistricting policy that they will respect “counties and municipalities.” Twenty-two Republicans have added their names to it.
Eleven of the current 105 lawmakers served in the 2011 redistricting session. All are Republicans: Dean Wink of Howes, Mark Willadsen of Sioux Falls, Larry Tidemann of Brookings, Al Novstrup of Aberdeen, Ryan Maher of Isabel, Phil Jensen of Rapid City, Jean Hunhoff of Yankton, Charlie Hoffman of Eureka, Jon Hansen of Dell Rapids, Brock Greenfield of Clark and Bolin.
Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden of Union Center, a Republican, also took part as a House member.
As for political balance, the 2011 special session had 80 Republicans, 24 Democrats and one independent (Jenna Netherton of Sioux Falls, also known as Jenna Haggar, who re-aligned as a Republican). This year the numbers more favor one side: Republicans 94, Democrats 11.
FAIR BUILDING: The governor’s request to the Legislature to build a bigger livestock facility at the State Fair in Huron became the late focus Tuesday at a meeting of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
The fair’s manager, Peggy Besch, said an October 31 fire destroyed the open-class beef barn that was built in 1979. Cause of the fire is believed to have been a mouse nest under a refrigerator that shorted its electrical cord.
Besch said the barn was used 270 days a year.
Governor Kristi Noem, who’s becoming nationally recognized for riding horseback at rodeo opening ceremonies, wants the Legislature to appropriate $12 million toward a new center that would cost an estimated $19 million.
The proposed center, called the Dakota Events Complex, would have 200,000 square feet of space and seat 7,000 people. The burned-down barn was 96,000 square feet.
Agriculture Secretary Hunter Roberts told the committee that the insurance payment would be “$3 million at least.” The State Fair Foundation has started a fundraising effort for $4 million.
Roberts said the 1979 building didn’t have a fire-suppression system. “This one will,” he said.
Roberts said the proposed timetable calls for construction to start in September after the 2021 State Fair. The space needed would also require removal of the sheep barn next door. He said ribbon-cutting could occur at the 2022 State Fair.
PRICE OF A DREAM: Representative Wink asked whether outside groups were willing to “pay their fair share” for the new center. He said spending so much of the taxpayers’ money could be like Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere” from the mid-2000s.
Wink clarified he wasn’t opposed to replacing the barn. “I’m just thinking the size and the scope might be beyond our means,” Wink said.
Said Besch, “We only see this as greater opportunity.” She added, “Our intent is the money would be raised to replace the building.”
Representative Richard Vasgaard, a Republican who farms in the Centerville area, said the recent Red Power Round Up tractor show at the Huron fairgrounds last August made South Dakota “the envy” of others across the nation. “That building will attract people,” Vasgaard said.
Representative Roger Chase, a Huron Republican, said the DEX as it’s being called will be a regional facility. “The community of Huron is excited about this potential project,” Chase said.
The National Junior High Finals Rodeo was held at the fairgrounds again in 2019. “They want to come back,” Chase said. “They simply told us they can’t come back until it’s indoors.”