Democratic Leaders Column from Rep. Jamie Smith and Sen. Troy Heinert– Week 6

PIERRE, SD (February 19, 2021) – Greetings from Pierre! The sixth week of the legislative session was short, but Democrats worked hard to bring bills aimed at increasing transparency and accountability in our state government. We also continue to work on issues that solve real problems and help people while we fight against bills that seem to be primarily political. Concerns about COVID in the Capitol remained high as well, prompting several house and senate members to participate remotely this week.

Two bills that received a lot of press attention this week were about government transparency. SB 153 would have outlined quarterly reporting requirements for the Department of Transportation’s airplane fleet to the Joint Committee on Appropriations. SB 165 would amend state law by clarifying that certain expenditures related to providing security to the governor are not exempt from full disclosure.

“We have a high-profile governor, and that’s fine,” said Heinert, who authored SB 153. “But I would challenge anyone critical of our attempts to get this information to find out what is being reported. Plenty of journalists have requested details about the governor’s travel while campaigning across the country for other candidates and those requests have been denied. This bill was about common-sense values that our constituents have asked for, and it’s pretty obvious what is state business and what is political or personal. We think the people of South Dakota should get to see that information, but right now, we don’t know.”

Both SB 153 and SB 165 were voted down in their respective committees this week. Democrats have only 3 senate members and 8 house members, which means every committee in the South Dakota legislature holds a Republican majority. Finding common ground with folks across the aisle continues to be a challenge for Democrats this year, and that has become especially challenging due to COVID.

“We’re told to practice personal responsibility,” said House Minority Leader Jamie Smith. “The easiest thing to do is wear a mask and get tested, but when the people around you aren’t taking the simplest precautions it makes our work here more difficult. This means a few of our house members are working remotely and missing those conversations that take place outside of the committee rooms.”

“I worry about the staff at the Capitol as well as folks in the Pierre and Fort Pierre communities, who graciously open their hospitality to us,” said Heinert. “I’m from a community that takes this seriously, and I’m a survivor of COVID, so I don’t want to inflict a harmful virus on people here just doing their jobs. On the senate side we are respectful to distance, and wear masks, but with at least eight known cases in the house, it’s disappointing to see that lack of personal responsibility.”

Despite this, Democratic House and Senate members have enjoyed some success with the bills they have brought to committees. Representative Erin Healy’s bill, HB 1196, to provide free tuition and fees to visually impaired residents for courses not subsidized by the state general fund, heard testimony in Senate Education. It passed unanimously and will move to the Senate floor. Senator Red Dawn Foster’s bill, SB 166, to revise provisions regarding hate crimes and extend them to include LGBTQ+ Native Two-Spirit and people with disabilities, passed in Senate Judiciary and will be heard on the Senate floor.

“Democrats are working on bills that are about real issues our neighbors are facing and real problems that we can help them solve,” says Smith. “We’re proud of the work our representatives are doing to get past some of the ideological differences and find common sense solutions for South Dakotans. Some of the bills we’ve seen from Republicans seemed aimed at scoring political points, like the bills regarding abortion and reporting on embryos. We’d like to see health care solutions for people with disabilities who are struggling right now, and solutions to problems happening right now. That’s why we’re here.”

In some cases, taking care of people now means looking to South Dakota’s past. This week, Senator Heinert’s resolution to rescind the Medals of Honor given to US soldiers for their involvement in Wounded Knee was heard in Senate Military and Veterans Affairs. The resolution was amended to open an investigation into the awards and will move to the senate floor.

“We can’t change history, but we can right some wrongs, and that’s what this resolution will do,” said Heinert. “Resolutions like this are meant to pass to our South Dakota delegation to take action, and I had the chance to speak with Representative Johnson this week and he seems open to looking at it.”

Democrats are also looking to the future with regard to Amendment A (recreational marijuana) and IM 26 (medical marijuana), and remain steadfast in respecting the will of the voters on these measures. Our representatives heard passionate, emotional testimony regarding the need for medical marijuana and we think there has been enough time to examine the process, hire consultants, and implement it.

“70% of the people were clear in their intention for these measures at the ballot box,” said Heinert. “Our role is to institute the will of the people. When Republicans start talking about tax issues and wanting to slow down, it’s a distraction. Look at the hemp program. We’ve almost missed our window to get that started. There is no excuse for not respecting South Dakota voters.”

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 the hour 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, Jamie.Smith@sdlegislature.gov
Senator Troy Heinert, Troy.Heinert@sdlegislature.gov