Pushing socialism and recruiting kids to be gay or transgender. These are a few claims a lawmaker and a lobby group made to oppose a bill supporters say would improve pre-school in South Dakota.
South Dakota lawmakers need to consider a lot of bills in a short amount of time. How do they research and fact check all of the claims they hear at the capitol?
The House State Affairs Committee rejected House Bill 1175 in a 9-2 vote. The bill would’ve set up an early learning advisory council. It would be a governor-appointed committee that would, in part, look at ways to make pre-school more accessible. 48-states have this; South Dakota does not. Ultimately, the Department of Education opposed the plan, saying it didn’t have the money for it. However, the conversation took a few turns.
At one point, republican Representative Steven Haugaard, a member of the State Affairs Committee, said the measure would push socialism.
“And what it really is, it’s a transformational approach to instilling more of a socialist agenda in the system,” Haugaard said.
Then someone else, a woman who says she’s a retired school psychologist, testified against it. Florence Thompson, president of a group called South Dakota Parents Involved in Education, advocated for kids to stay home longer. She argued it’s better for their development than pre-school. She also made this claim.
“The sexual orientation transgender agenda. It’s in all of the schools now. They’re starting to push it younger and younger and so these kids are going to be indoctrinated and we’re going to start in pre-school,” Thompson said.
Thompson claimed early childhood education is a recruiting tool.
“So this recruitment and I will call it recruitment and grooming to the LGBT lifestyle is being putting in younger and younger and younger. There is a federal push and I believe that we need to block this. Parents need to be able to raise their children to their own beliefs,” Thompson said.
“I think those claims are completely ridiculous. There’s absolutely no trans or LGBTQ agenda that’s happening in our pre-schools,” Rep. Erin Healy, (D) Sioux Falls, said.
Healy, the bill’s prime sponsor, says Thompson didn’t submit any data to lawmakers prior to her testimony.
“There is absolutely no research, no citations. Nothing to prove her claims were reputable,” Healy said.
We checked with the Secretary of the House State Affairs Committee, who confirmed Thompson did not submit any documents to prove what she said was true. The director of the Legislative Research Council says that’s not a requirement for lobby groups, but says many do submit reports and research.
“I would say the majority of lobbyists, they are there to educate state legislators and they’re doing a fantastic job of helping us make decisions for our state,” Healy said.
Representative Jamie Smith, (D) Sioux Falls, also pushed back against the opposition.
“I’ve heard a lot of fear here from the opposition today. It provides a structure to learn. Provides a structure for us to see what we can do better to better the lives of families and children in South Dakota,” Smith said.
KELOLAND News sent a Facebook message to Thompson to request an interview and talk about her testimony and where she got her information. We will update this story when we get a response. We also sent a message to the chair of the House State Affairs Committee to ask how testimony affects how lawmakers vote. We’re also waiting for that response.
As for how lawmakers can check testimony from lobby groups, they can request to defer the issue to have more time to research and fact check. Someone on this committee did motion to defer 1175, but the majority of the committee rejected that.