Democratic Leaders Column: Special Session 2020

PIERRE, SD (October 5, 2020) – Greetings from Pierre, where the special session to allocate CARES funding for our constituents in South Dakota has concluded.

The day began with caucus meetings, and, as usual, the Democratic caucus meetings were open while our Republican colleagues met behind closed doors. This was followed by Governor Noem’s address to the legislature where she laid out her intents for the special session and praised the work she and her team have done in approaching COVID-19 in South Dakota. Democratic Legislators arrived in Pierre with priorities for how this money should be spent, and concerns for the process in general.

“We came here wanting to do the work necessary to take care of our constituents, and to honor the will of the people,” said Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert. “We wanted to make sure we get help to those folks who might fall through the cracks, to those students on reservations that are South Dakota students, and to those individuals who need rapid testing to get back to their lives after a possible exposure. We brought amendments reflecting this and the Republican Senators voted against rodeo, meatpackers, and native kids.”

“This was about getting people the help they need,” said House Minority Leader Jamie Smith. “Our health care providers, our nursing homes, our students, our schools along with our small businesses in South Dakota are looking to us to make decisions for the benefit of all South Dakotans, not special interests. We needed more time to listen to our neighbors and make those decisions, but this is what we had to work with.”

“This entire process would have benefitted from stronger leadership from our Governor and the Republican supermajority in the legislature,” said Senate Minority Whip Reynold Nesiba. “This special session should have been called in June. We then could have heard from businesses, livestock producers, schools, universities, healthcare facilities and people across the state regarding their Covid needs. Then we could have really worked together to pass a special appropriations bill to spend these funds. What the legislature did today was a flawed process, but my Democratic colleagues worked hard to make it better.”

Now it is October, and Democrats feel that time is running out.

“The regular appropriations process was undermined and turned over, inappropriately, from the legislature to the executive branch.” said Nesiba “If there ever was an appropriation that was ‘special’ this $1.4 billion was it. Rather than these funds being spent as a special appropriations bill, we instead only amended the existing general appropriations bill to give spending authority entirely to Governor Noem. We then wrote a memo to the Governor—not a bill, just a resolution—allowing her to spend as she pleases with a few of our suggestions. In short, the legislature failed to manage the public purse as directed by our constitution. We gave it to the Governor instead.”

Please direct questions to SDDP Executive Director Pam Cole via email or phone (605) 695-1996.



Rep. Jamie Smith,

Sen. Troy Heinert,