PIERRE, SD (March 6, 2020) – Greetings from Pierre, where we are heading into the last week of the legislative session with some successes to celebrate and a few heartbreaking losses for our constituents.

Senate Education passed HB 1228, Representative Erin Healy’s bill to include children with a hearing loss in the reporting criteria required for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. By collecting data on all students who deaf and hard of hearing, the state could then better evaluate whether services are being met and help identify possible gaps in learning. This bill was put on the Senate’s consent calendar and is one step closer to the Governor’s desk. 

“This is one step toward helping our deaf and hard of hearing students in South Dakota, and we’re happy to see it have the support needed in the legislature,” said Senator Troy Heinert. “Democrats in Pierre are committed to working for all of our students to make sure they get the best education we can give them.”

However, some of the education bills Democrats brought didn’t get the full support needed. 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, failed to pass in the House Education committee.

“Obviously that’s a large, complex bill that’s new to South Dakota, and there is a lot of misinformation out there that came up,” said Heinert. “That bill received unanimous support up until Wednesday. That was the best product we could put forward, and clearly we have more work to do to ease concerns that weren’t accurate.”

Democrats will continue to work on finding a path forward for Native American students, and all of our students and teachers who need support. The issue looming over the last week will be the budget, and the Democratic caucus has been unwavering on the need to follow the law.

“The Governor tied teachers, state employees, and community support providers together, and we want to give them all the two percent cost of living adjustment they deserve,” said Senator Troy Heinert. “We have looked at the Legislative Research Council’s projections. We went back and pulled information about the average amount we have in annual reserves after funding everything else. The average is ten to twelve million per year. We have this money available; let’s use it.”

Other bills moved forward this week that have Democrats wanting more clarification, including HB 1117, the bill to repeal and revise certain provisions regarding rioting, to establish the crime of incitement to riot, and to revise provisions regarding civil liability for riot and riot boosting. HB 1117 passed on the Senate floor Thursday.

“This bill is problematic with using the word urge,” said Representative Jamie Smith. “We don’t believe the legislation changed much from last year’s bill that was found to be unconstitutional.”

“We can’t continue to write checks for unconstitutional bills targeting a specific group of people trying to do their best for the state of South Dakota,” said Heinert. “Who do we work for? A foreign company or the people of South Dakota who might not want a potentially damaging pipeline going through their land?”

There is a companion bill HB 1199, that removes the term “riot boosting” and makes other changes that began its journey through the legislature this week.

“Going into the last week, we still have a heavy load of bills that we hope to see pass,” said Smith. “We’re here to make South Dakota a better place for everyone, and we’ll see those bills though.”

These bills include SB 70, to authorize other languages to be used in the process of issuing certain driver licenses and permits; SB 96, to prohibit the denial of TANF eligibility based solely on a controlled substance felony; SB 2, expanding the 211 Helpline statewide; HB 1008, to legalize the growth, production, and transportation of industrial hemp in the state, and many more making their way to the Governor’s desk.

“We’re going to continue to work to find common ground on these bills and other issues facing our communities and our state,” said Heinert. “The last week is going to be semi-controlled chaos that has us playing political whack-a-mole. Democrats are outnumbered here, but we’re optimistic that we can solve some real problems.”

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)