PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Is it safe for South Dakota lawmakers to attend the 2021 legislative session in-person in Pierre on Jan. 12?

A Sioux Falls representative says it’s too risky without a vaccine and wants to attend remotely. Incoming Senate leader, Lee Schoenbeck of Watertown is the latest lawmaker to contract COVID-19.

Democrat Linda Duba is worried for her health if she attends the upcoming session in person. Republican Steve Haugaard says lawmakers need to do their jobs and show up at the capitol in two weeks.

Out of the more than 70 lawmakers on the House floor during Governor Kristi Noem’s budget address on Dec. 8, fewer than 30 were wearing masks.

Legislators listening to Gov. Noem’s budget address on the House floor on Dec. 8th

“This is a public health concern that I have. We have community spread; we don’t know where the infection is coming from. We know that our ventilation in the Capitol is less than desirable; whether be in a committee room or a chamber. We know we cannot social distance. We know that masks are not required.”

StateRep. Linda Duba, (D) Sioux Falls

Democrat Representative, Linda Duba of Sioux Falls, says her children brought their concerns to her about attending the upcoming session in Pierre. Duba is 64 and suffers from hypertension and asthma.

“It’s not safe. We should demand more. We should make sure we’re in CDC compliance if we’re going to insist on in-person meetings,” Duba said.

“I think we’re going to take plenty of precautions and provide options there in the capitol where people can social distance, they can wear masks, they can have plexiglass dividers in the chamber if they choose, Rep. Steve Haugaard said.

Our news camera captured plexiglass now set up around four of the desks in the Senate Chamber, but none yet in the House.

Plexiglass has been installed at four desks in Senate chamber.

Republican Representative Steve Haugaard is the outgoing Speaker of the House. He suffered from COVID-19 in October.

“For the most part, I’ve had a good recovery, I have gotten my strength back; have some impairment of breathing if I wear a mask. For me, putting a mask on is detrimental,” Haugaard said.

Therefore, Haugaard is opposed to mandating masks during the session,

“I’d like to see us as a body consider that people are going to be exposed when they’re out there. They could contract the virus and so what we should be thinking is, how can we rapid test our legislators? And are there vaccines available for those who wish to get them?” Duba said.

Kennecke: So will you go to Pierre without a vaccine?
Duba: I do know I have to go Pierre to be sworn in; that’s constitutional.

But attending a session remotely would require a change in the rules, something Haugaard doesn’t support.

“Life has risks. I think we need to move forward and get our job done. If you’re expecting entire session to be problematic, you’ve got to consider, do I resign my position and let somebody actually get out there who can fill the role,” Haugaard said.

“I’m just asking that our workplace be considered safe as well,” Duba said.

Legislative leaders are considering new policies on attending the session remotely, but they would have to be adopted by the full Legislature.