Democratic Leaders Column from Jamie Smith and Troy Heinert– Week 3

PIERRE, SD (January 28, 2021) – Greetings from Pierre, where the third week of session ends with Democrats working hard to improve the lives of our neighbors in South Dakota. Contentious bills like HB1076, which would prevent people from amending the gender listed on their birth certificates, have had Democrats defending the rights of our constituents. Other bills like SB24, providing for an online voter registration system, should have had bipartisan support, but ended up fundamentally impaired by one Republican legislator.

“It’s discouraging and disappointing to see these same discriminatory bills pop up year after year,” said House Minority Leader, Jamie Smith. “The lack of empathy for folks in our state who have rights, but then see these attempts to chip away at them is heartbreaking. It’s bad for our communities, it’s detrimental to our business climate, and it does nothing to advance the real work we’re here to do for all people in South Dakota.”

Representative Erin Healy (D-Sioux Falls) spoke about HB1076 at the weekly legislative press conference saying “We have inclusive companies like Amazon, as well as sports tournaments looking to come to South Dakota and thinking twice about it due to these bills that reflect poorly on our state. They are unvetted bills that are unconstitutional and just end up costing us both money and valuable time in the legislature.”

At this week’s press conference, Democrats introduced SB125, to require the wearing of face coverings in the state under certain conditions, in response to COVID-19. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) is the bill’s prime sponsor who stressed that this is a measured, temporary bill with no penalty.

“We’re South Dakotans – we take care of our neighbors, and right now is always the right time to do the right thing,” said Nesiba. “It’s hard at the local level for our leaders to enact mask requirements because they are impeded by the lack of leadership in our executive branch. From the data we’ve seen from Brookings and Sioux Falls, we know masks work. This bill proposes mitigation efforts somewhere between total lockdowns and doing nothing. We’re looking forward to this discussion.”

“We need to lead by example to get this pandemic under control” says Senate Minority Leader, Troy Heinert. “All of our reservations have mask mandates, practice social distancing, and have limited access to our lands. This has been a good model of staying ahead of it. We’ve also done good work with vaccine distribution and taking care of our families. If we continue on the road we’re on in the rest of the state, we know what waits ahead, and this bill moves us in the right direction for the people of South Dakota.”

Doing what’s right for the people of South Dakota is a priority for Democrats, which is why they supported SB24 in its original form to provide for a system of online voter registration. This bill was brought by the Republican Secretary of State, supported by the State Board of Elections, and the Republican Governor. It received no opponent testimony in committee. Yet, it was amended to only allow changes of information—not actual voter registration—and will proceed to the House side of the legislature in amended form.

“There’s no question that online voter registration is coming,” says Heinert. “The question is how long do our citizens who could benefit from this system have to wait? In our state and on our reservations many people have to travel great distances to get to the nearest courthouse. It would also help our new citizens by allowing them to type in their information, reducing errors on handwritten forms. Getting more people involved with elections is a good thing, and this shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”

Other bills Democrats hope to see bipartisan support on are SB89, recognizing Juneteenth as an official non-working state holiday, and SB104 that will phase out the sales tax on food over four years and SB153 that will require quarterly disclosure on state aircraft usage. On Monday, SB68 will be on the Senate floor. It would provide for the creation and funding of Oceti Sakowin community-based schools.

Democrats are here to work for the people, to work for you. We want to hear from you! Please contact us to share your questions or concerns about the current session. Our caucus meetings have always been open to the public each day right before floor session. We are observing COVID mitigation practices in place in the Capitol. If you are visiting, plan to allow extra time for screening at the entrance and wear a mask to keep you and others safe. Your voice matters to us, and we believe that together, we can create a South Dakota that works for all of us.

Representative Jamie Smith,

Senator Troy Heinert,