Democratic Leadership Column: Southern Border, Ag Industry & Food Tax


February 4, 2024

Minority Leader Sen. Reynold Nesiba

It was a big fourth week of session. The Governor’s speech regarding border security received a disproportionate amount of the attention. Right before the speech, I had an opportunity to speak with Gov. Kristi Noem. I told her that I appreciate her bringing attention to this issue. Where I disagree is what we as a state should be doing. Her approach is about states’ rights where we provide aid to Texas. I reminded her that securing the border and immigration are handled by the federal government. The solution is one best dealt with by the federal government, not by us sending another group of our National Guard members to the border and engaging in what I believe is national theater. It was disappointing to hear her approach and I respectfully disagree with how to handle the crisis at the border. To counter her approach, I introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 604. It urged US Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds as well as Congressman Dusty Johnson to work with the Biden Administration on an immigration bill. My resolution failed along party lines. Legislators followed the Governor rather than Thune and Rounds who say they are working toward an agreement with President Joe Biden.

My bill to require the state board of elections to meet every year to review our election laws passed the Senate and is now heading to the House side. Also, after a very lively discussion, my bill to ask South Dakota voters if they want to repeal the state food tax passed out of Senate Taxation and will be on the floor Monday.

I’ve also had several bills fail this week that would have made South Dakota better. That includes allowing candidates to use campaign finance funds to pay for childcare. I think we would be a better legislature if there were more young people serving at the Capitol. One of the obstacles to becoming a lawmaker is access to affordable high-quality childcare. While this is just one barrier for people to become a legislator, this bill would have made it easier for people with children to serve. Another bill that Republicans killed would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over three years to match what Nebraska did. I hear a lot of talk about workforce in South Dakota. However, we don’t try very hard to fix the issues that will attract and retain young people. This would have been a good step to keep South Dakota competitive. And finally, my bill to remove the death penalty failed by just one vote in Senate Judiciary. That was the most emotional testimony that I have been part of in my eight years in the legislature. I think it is wrong for South Dakota to be taking someone’s life. It is far more expensive to try these cases than it would be to sentence someone to life in prison. We heard deeply painful testimony from the widow of Ron “RJ” Johnson as she spoke about how terrible his murder was at the state penitentiary. But I reminded people that we had the death penalty in place. It failed to save RJ Johnson. Her testimony did emphasize that we need to do a better job at protecting the staff at our prisons. I think that is an argument for why we need a new penitentiary and sufficient numbers of well-paid, well-trained staff to protect themselves and the inmates for whom we are responsible.

Thank you for following what is going on in the South Dakota legislature. If I can be helpful to you, please contact me. Democrats are working to create a South Dakota that works for all of us.

Thank you,

Minority Leader Sen. Reynold Nesiba District 15

Minority Leader Rep. Oren Lesmeister

This was our only five-day week this session that also saw the deadline for bills to be filed. On Wednesday, the Governor called for a joint address of the House and Senate. She talked about the crisis at the border, which we agree is a crisis at this time. We appreciate the Governor bringing this directly to the citizens of South Dakota, but in her speech, she classified everyone coming across the border as criminals. That is an area where we disagree. These people are not all criminals. Most are trying to find safety and just want a better life. Immediately after her speech, Rep. Will Mortenson brought a House Concurrent Resolution to affirm South Dakota’s support for the defense of the border. In his speech, he called the people crossing the border as “the children of God”. We are trying to figure out what their message really is here. I do believe the Governor used her speech as a political platform for herself to get on national news.

The other thing she brought up is that gangs are being organized on the reservations in South Dakota. Rep. Peri Pourier said she was deeply frustrated that the Governor politicized the public safety issues facing the Oglala Sioux Tribe. We have also heard concerns about Gov. Noem discussing an alleged gang called the “Ghost Dancers”, which is a sacred term to the Lakota. I need more proof about the Governor’s claims.

Another issue we saw this week was bills concerning Uniform Commercial Code, which is a comprehensive set of laws governing all commercial transactions in the United States. There was a lot of talk that this is a federal government grab. The UCC actually has nothing to do with the federal government. This is all collaborated by the states who have to agree to UCC laws. What that does is make all commerce trade across states and providences uniform. The opposition testimony was that we wanted to turn into a world bank and go all cryptocurrency, which is not true.

A bill that I sponsored to revise the hemp program in South Dakota already passed the Senate and is now heading to the House side. This updates our rules to comply with the final regulations from the USDA. One exception that we are doing is with bales of hemp. If a hemp producer has a couple of bales left over that are not sent to a processor, they can use them as bedding or sell them to a neighbor for the same purpose. The bales have been tested and they are all below three-tenths of 1% THC. We also had a bill that would ban certain delta-8, delta-9 and delta-10 products with the content of THC-O. These products are natural which are derived out of hemp and marijuana plants. On the backside of it, chemists are attaching psycho-active drugs, call them all-natural and try to sell them legally. We do need to make those illegal. However, the bill proposed by Rep. Brian Mulder would impact everything you can do with hemp. By the way the bill is written, you cannot do anything with hemp chemically. We brought an amendment to strip some of that language, which was approved. There is still some more work to do for the marijuana industry to adjust the bill so they can still sell their products legally.

We have a big week coming up as committees start discussing pipeline and landowner rights’ bills. I think that’s the elephant in the room and will be some of the biggest issues we tackle this session.

Thank you,

Minority Leader Rep. Oren Lesmeister District 28A

For questions, you can contact the SDDP Executive Director Dan Ahlers at or contact the state party office by phone at 605-271-5405 or 605-940-3071.

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