FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Democratic Leaders Column from Rep. Jamie Smith and Sen. Troy Heinert– Week 9
PIERRE, SD (March 12, 2021) – Greetings from Pierre, where the legislative session is over, but in many ways our work is just beginning. Democratic representatives and senators worked hard to build relationships, pass meaningful legislation, fight against dangerous and discriminatory ideas, and shape policy in our state government.
“Working through a pandemic that affected our fellow legislators throughout this session was a unique challenge this year,” says House Minority Leader, Jamie Smith. “We remained respectful while following the Covid mitigation practices put into place. Allowing remote testimony and voting when necessary was crucial to getting work done. I think this demonstrates the cooperative spirit in this year’s legislature. We appreciated those efforts and made it through the entire session, which is an accomplishment on its own.”
“We can’t thank the capitol staff enough for their efforts to keep us all safe,” says Senate Minority Leader, Troy Heinert. “They did the best they could. We’re not done with this yet as we’ve seen with the new variants emerging in our state. We must continue to keep our communities safe and keep it at bay. We will get through this together.”
Working together and agreeing on the state budget is always the most important work legislators do at the end of each session. This year’s budget was unique due to a significant amount of one-time money from federal Covid relief funds and revenues exceeding expenditures. The budget includes increases in ongoing spending, including 2.4 percent for education, Medicaid providers and state employees. It also includes additional one-time funds of $50 million for a need-based “Freedom Scholarship” for college students, $75 million for broadband expansion, and additional funds for railroad and radio tower infrastructure and other projects across the state.
“We just passed a historic $5.1 billion budget for next year that includes funding for education, state employees, and community service providers that have been Democratic priorities for years,” says Smith. “This is an incredible opportunity to help a lot of people and will really move South Dakota forward.”
“I’m proud of the work our legislators on the appropriations committee got done this year,” said Heinert. “They had to work through the challenge of being left out of a lot of conversations that took place behind closed doors, but I can honestly say it was the best product we could put forward. We listened to our constituents and will continue to fight for them.”
Listening to our constituents and our communities is always a Democratic priority. This year was no exception as we had to fight against some discriminatory and dangerous legislation. We had bills that died in committee get “smoked out” on the senate floor, which is a rare occurrence in a typical session.
Bills that were smoked out include HB 1217 to protect women’s sports and HB 1212, clarifying the use of force. HB 1217 is clearly aimed at keeping trans youth from participating in activities that affirm their identity, and HB 1212, also known as a “stand your ground” law, creates ambiguous self-defense arguments. Both bills were defeated almost unanimously in committee, but they were revived with a third of the Senate supporting a hearing on the Senate floor.
“The committee process is the best place to hear testimony from both citizens and organizations who feel strongly about a particular bill,” says Heinert. “If committee members are absent or if the vote is close, then the smoke-out is an effective tool to use. However, no legislator should use it just because they didn’t like the outcome of those committee hearings. It isn’t respectful to the legislative process, and it isn’t fair to the people who come here to testify on their own behalf. It silences their voices and that’s not why we’re here.”
Respecting the voices and the votes of people through the initiated measure process is another priority for Democrats. Finding common ground and common-sense solutions to issues like Amendment A and IM 26 were huge areas of concern this year. HB 1100, the governor’s bill to modify the medical marijuana program and delay its implementation, was passed in the house. The senate amended the bill to add an “affirmative defense” provision to provide legal protection for people who have a legitimate medical use for cannabis. A conference committee was created to work out an agreement. No agreement was reached so IM 26 is the law of the land and medical marijuana will become legal on July 1, 2021 unless the Governor’s office takes additional actions.
“We were getting down to crunch time, and we had to do something,” says Smith. “This is the best path forward to get back to IM 26 as it was approved by the voters. It’s time for the administration to get to work to implement the will of the people.”
The legislature will be meeting over the summer to continue work on its appropriations and audit functions. The executive board will also meet and choose topics for summer studies. Most importantly, we will also be meeting on redistricting. The legislature will meet again in November for a special session to debate and approve new legislative election maps that take effect for the 2022 election cycle.
“I encourage everyone, especially those who live in larger areas, to attend field hearings on redistricting this year,” says Heinert. “It’s critically important that you show up and make sure your voice is heard so you have representation in the legislature.”
Democrats in South Dakota work for you, and we want to hear from you! Please contact us to share your questions or concerns about this session and the future of our state. Your voice matters, and we believe that together we can create a South Dakota that works for all of us.
Representative Jamie Smith, Jamie.Smith@sdlegislature.gov
SenatorTroy Heinert, Troy.Heinert@sdlegislature.gov