PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness was the focus of Governor Kristi Noem’s State of the State Address in Pierre as the 97th South Dakota Legislative Session opened on Tuesday.

The speech is intended to set the tone for the legislation that lawmakers will be working on over the next few weeks.

Gov. Noem began her address stating that “…South Dakota is stronger than it has ever been in our 133-year history.” The people, Noem says, are the reason.

When it comes to South Dakota’s economy, Noem looked back on the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and her administration’s decision to not impose lockdowns or mask mandates at a state level, saying that “because we upheld our principles” the economy is thriving.

“From July 2020 to July 2021, South Dakota’s population grew nine times faster than the national average,” Noem said.

Noem cited a Wallet Hub survey that lists South Dakota as the number one state for business environment and workforce support.

Another national study cited by Noem was the National Movers Survey that listed South Dakota as the number 3 destination for inbound moves in 2021.

Left out of the address was the current labor shortage affecting not just South Dakota, but the nation as a whole.

According to Gov. Noem, the state is $116 million above legislative estimates and for that reason Noem proposed using the fund revenues for the people of South Dakota in three possible ways.

  1. Eliminating fees with the Secretary of State to start or renew a business.
  2. Eliminate all fees to purchase a concealed carry permit.
  3. Eliminate the “Bingo Tax.”

The South Dakota reserves saw a large increase in 2021 due to federal COVID-19 aid.

Pivoting to health care, Gov. Noem asked the legislature to take action to “protect South Dakota women” from telemedicine abortions. In 2021, Noem signed an executive order to prevent South Dakotans from purchasing abortion medication except through a medical professional, licensed in South Dakota, following an in-person appointment.

“Today, I am asking all of you to protect the heartbeats of these unborn children. I am bringing legislation to ban all abortions once a heartbeat can be detected,” Noem continued in her address.

In terms of access to health care, Gov. Noem called on South Dakotans to volunteer in small, rural communities that rely on volunteer-run services.

Gov. Noem also addressed health care workers and the “challenges” they have faced saying that the state has invited health care workers from out of state to come to South Dakota by making it possible to recognize out of state licenses. “We are getting you more help,” Gov. Noem said.

COVID-19 was a common thread throughout Noem’s State of the State address, as she repeatedly cited her administration’s decision to allow the people of South Dakota to choose what is best for them. Gov. Noem again highlighted the million COVID-19 tests the state recently ordered and the Vault Health tests that have been in place for more than a year.

She also introduced legislation when it comes to vaccination against COVID-19. The bill will “protect the people’s right to a medical or religious exemption from COVID vaccines” and natural immunity, according to Noem.

“The COVID vaccination should be a choice,” Noem said.

When it comes to education and children, Gov. Noem introduced legislation regarding Critical Race Theory. Noem invited Dr. Ben Carson to attend the address and mentioned his 1776 Action Pledge that Gov. Noem was the first candidate for public office to sign.

“We have to make sure our children know America’s promise. We have to teach them the true, honest history of our country,” Noem said.

Another piece of legislation Noem introduced is the Fairness in Women’s Sports bill in the Senate. The bill is similar to one introduced in the 2021 legislative session that would ban individuals from girls’ sport if female is not listed on their birth certificate. It would affect athletes from kindergarten through college.

Gov. Noem closed her address again emphasizing the “freedom” of South Dakota saying, “We’ll pass it on to our children. We will not allow freedom to go extinct.”

Ahead of the session, lawmakers have already filed several bills on a variety of topics including legalizing marijuana, abortion rights and how to spend nearly $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief.

Throughout the session, KELOLAND News reporters will bring you coverage of topics and legislation under discussion in Pierre. Visit the Capitol News Bureau page and find additional stories on the 2022 legislative session on our special page.