PIERRE, SD (February 21, 2020) – As we pass the halfway point in the legislative session, we take a moment to look back at bills and ideas that didn’t make it as far as we had hoped. We look forward to fighting for bills and ideas that matter. And we take a good look at where we are right now. This is a crucial time in the process, and we need your voice on the bills and ideas that are still here, and are still worth fighting for, to create a better South Dakota for everyone.

This includes our Native American neighbors and children whose voices have been heard in the Capitol. This week, the Senate Education Committee unanimously passed Senator Troy Heinert’s bill to allow for the creation of community-based schools centered on Native American language and culture curriculum rooted in the Oceti-Sakowin Essential Understandings. This curriculum focuses on core concepts essential to Native American culture that are already available through the Department of Education, but aren’t mandated in South Dakota public schools.

“It does my heart good to see so much bi-partisan support for this bill and for our young people in South Dakota,” said Heinert. “We listened to Governor Noem’s concerns and now have her support. We have a lot of work ahead of us to implement this, but we’re not alone and our native students are going to have a much better chance at academic success moving forward. That makes South Dakota a better place for them and for everyone.”

Bills that aren’t good for everyone have passed their respective chambers and will move on in the upcoming weeks. One such bill is HB 1117 that seeks to establish the crime of incitement to riot, and to revise provisions regarding civil liability for riot and riot boosting. The bill passed the House and now moves to the Senate. 

“This is not the outcome we wanted,” said Representative Jamie Smith. “We need your voice on this, so please contact your state senators and urge them to vote no on HB 1117. This bill is unfair, unjust, and unconstitutional. Treating dissenting voices as criminal does nothing to improve relations or move our state forward.”

Another bill that seeks to quiet dissenting voices is SB 157, Governor Noem’s proposal to streamline the county permitting process that can be “hijacked by a vocal few” opposing a project. SB 157 passed the Senate 24-11 on Friday.

“I opposed this bill because commissioners are supposed to listen to the people in their county,” said Heinert. “I’ve heard overwhelmingly from people in my county who don’t want Pierre to tell them what to do with their land. I’ve seen what happens with CAFOs on tribal lands. We put a million dollars into pheasant habitat, and now we’re doing this? This is about respecting local control, and really hearing those few voices that deserve to be heard. Those vocal few matter.”

On these and other issues affecting Native Americans and all South Dakotans, the Democratic Caucus continues to try and educate their colleagues about the people in their communities, and to build coalitions in a bipartisan fashion to get their bills passed.

“One bill I’m really excited about is HB 1100, which deals with research and development of a new bioprocessing facility,” said Smith. “This bill represents bipartisan support for something that is forward thinking, promotes growth, and finally dives into why we are here.”

Other bills Democrats hope get bipartisan support are: HB 1142, which includes post-traumatic stress disorder as a compensable injury for purposes of workers’ compensation; SB 96, which prohibits the denial of TANF benefits based solely on a controlled substance felony; and other bills that involve education funding, early childhood education, and voting rights.

“Looking forward, we want a budget that follows the law with regard to education funding,” said Heinert. “Our community support providers, our treatment facilities, our court services people need our help now. We’re looking at other ideas for doing that.”

“As we look ahead to cross-over week there will be a lot of activity on these and other bills that matter,” said Smith. “We hope that all of our neighbors and citizens stay involved in the process and let us know what you think. 

Remember, we want to hear from you! Please contact us to share your questions or concerns about the current session. If you’re in Pierre, you can always join us at one of our caucus meetings that are open to the public. Your voice matters. 

Contact: Rep. Jamie Smith (605)339-3583


Senate Democratic Leader Senator Troy Heinert (D-Mission), Sen. Troy Heinert,

House Democratic Leader Representative Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls),