TO: Interested Parties
FROM: SDDP Communications Director Aaron Matson
DATE: March 15, 2019
RE: Despite Their Numbers, Democratic Legislators Had Many Successes in the 2019 Legislative Session
South Dakotans can be proud of the great work of Democrats in the State Legislature during the 2019 Legislative Session. Despite being in the minority, they worked hard on economic development, education, health care, campaign finance reform, and workforce development, and were able to pass legislation or advance the conversation in the legislature on these issues.
Because of the years of hard work of Democrats in the Legislature like Rep. Steve McCleerey (D-Sisseton), Sen. Susan Wismer (D-Britton), and others, to raise awareness of the nursing home crisis in our state, and the voices from citizens around the state who contacted their legislators about it, long-term care facilities received a 10% funding boost in the state budget. There’s still more work to do, but this is a significant step in the right direction (and double the amount originally proposed by Gov. Noem). Democrats also helped to ensure other important priorities received a budget boost, such as psychiatric residential treatment facilities, community support providers, and K-12 education.
Democrats, led by Sen. Craig Kennedy (D-Yankton), were able to garner bipartisan support for, and pass, a bill to review the laws around ingestion of controlled substances in our state – an important bill to make sure our legal system is functioning fairly and wisely.
Democrats were able to garner bipartisan support for, and pass, the Sen. Troy Heinert’s (D-Mission) bill to recognize an official indigenous language, making South Dakota the first to do so in the lower 48 states. They were also able to pass legislation from Rep. Erin Healy (D-Sioux Falls) to update language referring to the deaf and hard or hearing in state statute to eliminate offensive language, and bills from Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) concerning campaign finance reform, expanding open records, and addressing South Dakota’s special education needs.
Even when they didn’t pass legislation, Democrats were able to advance the conversation in the Legislature on many important issues, such as with a bill from Rep. Healy and Rep. Kelly Sullivan (D-Sioux Falls) to establish an early childhood education advisory council, and a bill from Sen. Nesiba to increase workforce development by offering drivers’ license exams and materials in Spanish.
Democrats also worked hard to pass legislation from Rep. Ryan Cwach (D-Yankton) to close the loophole which allows insurance companies to halt coverage of Applied Behavior Analysis – an important, and expensive, treatment for children with autism. Despite bipartisan support of this bill, and the heart-wrenching testimony from families in support of this bill, it was defeated by the Republican majority of the House State Affairs Committee. As State House Democratic Leader Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls)said at the time, “In South Dakota, when people are in trouble, we get together and help. In this case, however, we failed.”
Democrats were also able to garner a large, bipartisan majority in support of a bill from Rep. Oren Lesmeister (D-Parade) to legalize industrial hemp, which would have boosted economic development and value-added agriculture in the state. Despite it passing with large majorities in both houses of the Legislature, it did not have quite enough support to overcome a veto from Governor Noem.
The defeat of the hemp legislation (HB 1191) is disappointing for several reasons. Over 40 other states have already started to move forward in taking advantage of this economic opportunity for their farmers. Even though HB 1191 will not become law, our law enforcement will have to deal with all the issues of enforcement, because hemp will be travelling through our state. So, because this bill didn’t pass, South Dakota will have to deal with the challenges of legalized hemp without getting any of the benefits. Finally, failing to legalize industrial hemp this Session puts our state further behind our neighbors and hurts our farmers and our economy.
Beyond the defeat of this bill, the tactics employed by Governor Noem to defeat it, and get her way on several issues in the final couple of weeks of the Session were extremely troubling. Instead of working to find common ground and compromise with legislators on both sides of the aisle, she employed Washington-style bullying and arm-twisting to sustain her veto of HB 1191 and get funding from the state general fund for her “second-century habitat” program. There is perhaps no more clear demonstration of her bringing Washington-style politics to Pierre than the video she released celebrating her veto of HB 1191. Perhaps if she would have spent as much time trying to find common ground with legislators as she apparently does filming videos, compromise could have been found and a veto wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.
Gov. Noem also used these same Washington-style tactics to introduce and railroad two bills (SB 189 and 190) through the legislature in a matter of days. These bills nominally deal with potential protesters of the Keystone XL pipeline. To be sure, public safety is important. But SB 189 could have a chilling effect on free speech and peaceful protest, and the timing of these bills and the way they were railroaded through the Legislature were an abuse of the process. On top of the timing, the fact that the governor consulted the TransCanada Corporation and not tribal governments and landowners was a shocking sign of disrespect to these communities.
Despite these setbacks, there’s a lot for Democrats to be proud of from the 2019 Session. On top of the successes mentioned above, Democrats were able to work to find bipartisan majorities to defeat several bad pieces of legislation, including legislation which targeted transgender students, juvenile justice reform, presumptive probation, and the state’s early and absentee voting period.
Most of all, Democrats can be proud of the way our legislators behaved this Session. Our legislators worked together and as a team to put the best interests of South Dakota first every day. They treated each other, and legislators of the other party, with dignity and respect, and took the high road whenever possible. In victory and in defeat this Session, Democrats showed that we are the party that puts people first, and we are the party that is truly working to find commonsense solutions for the challenges facing our state.