Democratic Leaders Column from Jamie Smith and Troy Heinert– Week 5

PIERRE, SD (February 13 2021) – The fifth week of the legislative session has wrapped up with great concerns about COVID, cannabis, and the budget. At least seven republican legislators in the House of Representatives tested positive for COVID this week. There was also the judgement declaring Amendment A, legalizing recreational cannabis, unconstitutional and the governor’s bill delaying the implementation of IM 26, legalizing medical marijuana. We also heard from Governor Noem that our revenue projections are better than expected, which means the state’s budget is going to be a dominant issue this year.

“Usually, I like to stay pretty positive about how things are going at the Capitol, but I have to make an exception due to the current approach to mitigating the spread of COVID,” says House Minority Leader Jamie Smith. “Simply encouraging mask use on the House side isn’t working. You see it in committee meetings where rooms are full of people who aren’t wearing masks. Democrats are here to work for the people, but we shouldn’t be putting people at risk. Asking folks to wear a mask right now is about taking care of your neighbor.”

The House Democratic Caucus sent a letter to the Speaker of the House asking that they follow the same rules as the Senate, where masks are required. We expect those who test positive to be upfront with close contacts about it and to follow Department of Health guidelines. We want to keep the community of Pierre safe as well as the staff at the capitol.

“We also want to ask those who are thinking about bringing groups of students to the capitol to please reconsider,” says Smith. “As educators, ourselves, we understand the importance of having kids see how their government works, but we ask that you wait until next session. We want you and your loved ones to be safe.”

One issue Democrats don’t think needs to wait is the implementation of IM 26. The measure to allow medicinal marijuana in the state was written to begin this year, and we don’t think that needs to be altered. The governor has a bill to delay implementation and create a summer study.

“We’re here to respect the will of the voters, and that’s what our caucus intends to do,” says Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert.  “The voters passed IM 26 by an overwhelming margin, and it’s the legislature’s job to ensure its implementation. Anything less is unacceptable.”

Democrats are also concerned about bills making their way through the legislature designed to suppress the vote, particularly HB 1126, which prohibits the Secretary of State from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications at any time.

“Our governor has expressed confidence in South Dakota’s election procedures, and we agree with her on that,” says Heinert. “Our state and our election auditors were exemplary in how they handled things this year. If we have another situation like this pandemic, that might not be the case. We don’t see the need to change the voting process, and bills like these are solutions looking for problems that don’t exist.”

One good problem the state will have is figuring out what to do with the increased revenue projections announced by the governor this week.

“It’s easier when there isn’t money in the budget,” says Heinert. “Now we have a hundred and five different ideas on what to do the money and how to spend it. We would like to see it used to get people affected by the pandemic back to work and make sure we pay them a decent wage. Other folks here would like to keep it back for future use. All options should be on the table.”

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,