South Dakota lawmakers prepare for coronavirus special session

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — The COVID-19 pandemic will bring South Dakota lawmakers to Pierre next week, both in-person and virtually. A special session, enhanced by technology, is scheduled for Monday to finalize how to spend more than a billion dollars from the federal CARES Act.

South Dakota lawmakers will vote on how to divvy up one-and-a-quarter billion dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds. $400-million of that money is proposed to go to small businesses hurt by the pandemic.

“I think for the people of South Dakota, it’s extremely important. There’s people out there that are hurting and we have the ability to take this money and help them get through this tight situation,” House Majority Leader Republican Lee Qualm of Platte said.

Qualm says he believes lawmakers will be able to finish their work in a single day on Monday. But Democrats say the special session is not likely to be a rubber stamp.

“I’ve heard talk out there after the joint committee appropriations met and came up with this product that there are people that would like to bring amendments and things like that to what was created to meet the needs they feel are not being addressed at this time,” House Minority Leader Democrat Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls said.

But Republicans say changes this late in the year, when there’s a December 30 deadline looming to finalize a spending plan, could unravel the process.

“Could there be changes? Possibly. But once you start making changes, then kind of, you start losing everything,” Qualm said.

Qualm said many COVID-related issues not addressed Monday can wait until lawmakers meet in their regular session next year. But Democrats say a productive special session on Monday needs to make sure all South Dakotans hurting from the pandemic are not overlooked in Pierre.

“We want the voice of the people to be heard and the money to be allocated in areas that are necessary,” Smith said.

The special session will be conducted much like Veto Day back in March, with legislators able to vote virtually. But party leaders expect more lawmakers will attend the session in-person this time.

Friday afternoon, the South Dakota Bureau of Finance and Management tweeted a photo showing the dozens of hand sanitizer dispensers that are being assembled at the Capitol ahead of the special session.

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