PIERRE, SD (February 27, 2020) – Greetings from Pierre, where crossover day has had us working hard to pass our bills out of their chambers of origin. We’ve heard a lot of personal testimony on these bills and hope to see them lead to better outcomes for the people of South Dakota.

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 passed unanimously out of the Senate and now heads to the House. 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.

“I was extremely pleased and blessed knowing the work so many people have done on this bill, and to have it receive the bi-partisan support it did,” said Heinert. “For the first time, our government has acknowledged the situation and taken the opportunity to right the wrongs of what happened in the 1800’s. We still have some work to do to educate our colleagues about what this bill will accomplish, but we will work together to find what works for our kids.”

One ongoing challenge during this year’s legislature has been the Governor’s budget, which does not include an increase for educators, state employees, and community support providers. Democrats in Pierre are determined to follow the law on this matter and will work with the Governor and appropriators to find the money to implement a 2% increase across the board.

“The money to fund our priorities is already there,” said Heinert. “We believe the Legislative Research Council estimates to be accurate. We’re leaving money on the table that could fund a pay increase and follow the law. It’s just the right thing to do.”

“House and Senate Democrats are on the same page and we stand united on following the law,” said Rep. Jamie Smith. “Democrats have been working hard to find common ground on these and other matters that are the right thing to do for all of our citizens. It’s been disappointing to see some of our bills fail this session.”

Bills like HB 1245, which sought to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have done everything right to reenter society, failed in the House on Thursday.

“Voting rights are important to help people be successful and have a voice in matters that deeply concern them,” said Smith. “They’ve done their time and completed parole and probation requirements. The wealth based requirement to pay their financial debts is a barrier to their participation in society, and we had bi-partisan support on this opportunity to do something right. Representative Sullivan had good stats and an amendment to make this work, but the House rejected it. That’s something we need to keep working on.”

Democrats also worked hard to have their bills heard in committees this session. Through persistent communication with leadership they were eventually successful, and their bills got their hearings. They presented powerful testimony and facts to make their cases.

“We heard a lot of deeply personal testimony on issues related to our deaf and hard of hearing community on how to help students succeed in this state,” said Heinert. “It was disheartening to see Senator Reyonol Nesiba’s bill to require our schools to address their needs fail in the Senate. But Representative Erin Healy’s bill to extend the data collected on those students passed the House, so we’re encouraged that we’re moving in the right direction for them.”

“We’re proud of the work all of our Democratic Representatives and Senators have done to make South Dakota a better place for everyone,” said Smith. “There is a lot of work yet to be done on issues like better access to mental health care, helping hard working mothers who have been convicted of drug offenses support their families, and helping those without a voice be heard in the next couple of weeks. We encourage everyone to stay engaged in the process and reach out to their legislators on the issues that matter to them.”

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) 

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