Democratic Leadership: Progress on Education and Healthcare, But More Work To Do

By Sen. Reynold Nesiba and Rep. Oren Lesmeister

Greetings from Pierre! We just wrapped up the second to last week of the legislative session. As always, Democrats have remained focused on the issues that matter to South Dakotans. 

That’s why we’ve been working on addressing education and workforce challenges, making government work better, and supporting South Dakota families. 

On education, Sen. Nesiba’s Senate Bill 108 has now passed in both chambers of the legislature, which will improve the educational experience around fermentation practices for students at universities and set students up for a career in biotechnology earlier in their college experience. Democrats have continually supported expanding the SD Opportunity scholarship and voted this week to increase it from $6,500 to $7,500. 

In addition, Democrats have strongly supported addressing our state’s healthcare needs this session. Good legislation passed allocating two million dollars for adult day services for Alzheimer’s, two million dollars for suicide prevention, and funding Medicaid expansion, which the voters pass in November. 

We were particularly disappointed to see Republicans in the House overwhelmingly vote down Senate Bill 191, a bill from Rep. Peri Pourier and Sen. Red Dawn Foster to establish the task force to address the welfare of Indian children in South Dakota. That vote sent an astounding message that the other side apparently does not care about tribal issues in this state. Our tribes asked for this legislation to assist with resources they have, improve the information they have to work with, and integrate with state systems. 

Throughout the process, there was very little opposition to this legislation, but Republicans voted it down nonetheless. Republicans were concerned about the costs of passing this bill, which would have been minimal, but we are more concerned about the costs of not passing this bill: Native kids stuck in a system that isn’t working and further damage to the broken relationship between the state of South Dakota and our tribal nations. Frankly, we’re appalled. 

As we near the end of the legislative session, things are heating up in budget discussions. Governor’s Noem’s proposed 5% pay increase for teachers, providers, and state employees was far too low, and it appears we’re on track to see increases above that level. It won’t be at the level we’d like to see, but it is progress compared to what Governor Noem proposed. 

As always, we have an open caucus.  We welcome any visitors to stop by if you’re in Pierre and weigh in on the political process. 

Finally, we’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of two great South Dakotans: Sen. James Abourezk and former legislator Jack Billion. Both men led lives of service and many South Dakotans’ lives are better because of each of their legacies. That is why we do what we do each and every day. We are grateful for all they did for our state.

Senate Democratic Leader Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls)

House Democratic Leader Oren Lesmeister (D-Parade)