District 20 legislators were peppered with questions about gun policy in South Dakota Friday, during the first cracker barrel session of the legislative season in Mitchell.
State Sen. Josh Klumb, R-Mount Vernon, and Reps. Lance Koth and Paul Miskimins, both R-Mitchell, took questions from a full crowd of about 50 people at Mitchell City Hall over the noon hour. The legislators represent Aurora, Davison and Jerauld counties.
From the start, the conversation centered on two gun-related bills, primarily Senate Bills 47 and 50. Mitchell resident Paul Whitman asked why the Legislature could support SB 47, which allowed permitless concealed carry of guns, despite polling showing most of South Dakota supported the previous format and opposition from the state's sheriff's association and attorneys association. That bill was signed by Gov. Kristi Noem Thursday, who heavily supported the measure. That legislation divided three Republicans, as Klumb and Koth voted yes on the bill, and Miskimins voted against the measure.
Whitman contrasted that with Senate Bill 50, which would have allowed concealed carry in the Capitol, and was defeated earlier this week in the Senate. Klumb said he believes a replacement bill could still be on its way.
Klumb and Koth both defended their votes by saying that SB 47 leaves the current permitting process intact, but allows a person to carry a gun and not worry about scenarios such as their coat covering their gun and then not being in compliance with state law.
"I don't believe this will make anyone more unsafe," Klumb said. "You still need a permit, and you need a background check to purchase a gun anyway. You don't know if someone's carrying or not. You don't know if they have a permit or not. It's just the nature of it."
Miskimins cited public safety as his reason for opposing the measure, but said that he wasn't voting against gun ownership. He said he believes the previous format and permit process was working well, and said he felt the state's suicide rate is too high and "handguns are convenient for that purpose."
He also opposed the bill because it stipulated barring a person from carrying a concealed pistol in an establishment that derives more than one-half of its total income from the sale of malt or alcoholic beverages.
"Someone could be breaking the law when they thought they were legal," Miskimins said.
The cracker barrel, sponsored by the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce's Governmental Affairs Committee, included a Q-and-A from the audience. The format also allowed for the legislators to speak about issues and legislation that they've noticed or feel strongly about.
One of the members of that committee, Davison County Auditor Susan Kiepke, spoke during the event in opposition of House Bill 1178, which is a bill for which Klumb is listed as a co-sponsor. The bill calls for the absentee voting period before an election to be shortened from 46 days to 14.
Kiepke said the bill "completely disenfranchises voters," and would make it difficult for voters attending college out of state, as well as voters living in nursing homes and assisted living centers. Kiepke said county staffers help those locations vote, which takes two-and-a-half days to complete. In the case of the 2018 general election, more than 1,000 votes were cast in the first four weeks of absentee voting in Davison County, while nearly 45,000 votes were cast statewide in that time.
Klumb said that while he sponsored the bill, he said it doesn't mean he will have to support it. He said the bill was created to help shorten political campaigns, but said he would "probably oppose it."
Rebecca Trefz, of Mitchell, asked about House Bill 1230, which would add members of church staff or clergy to the list of professional occupations that are to be mandatory reporters for suspected child abuse or neglect. Trefz, who is Director of Ministries for the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church, said she supported the legislation because it would support clergy members to do "the tough thing that's often the right thing when leading a congregation."
Klumb said he was approached about carrying the bill but said he turned that down. He said he was receiving pushback from leaders in the Catholic church, saying it would violate the rules of a confessional.
"By their nature, clergy care for people. That's what they do," Klumb said. "I don't think we need a law to tell them how to do that."
Trefz responded by saying that the law already names occupations where those people care for others.
"What I know in terms of serving churches is that if you're not a mandatory reporter, it's a lot more difficult for that person to step forward," she said. "For anyone that lives in a small community, that's scary."
Legislators were also asked about illegal immigration, civics requirements for high school graduates and treating mental health issues. Klumb is a primary sponsor of House Bill 1223, being led by Rep. Kent Peterson, R-Salem, which would allow counties to keep half of the sales and use tax for commercial animal feeding operations built in their counties.
Miskimins also noted he supported House Bill 1055, which would require parental notification and agreement before a hospital or doctor could apply a "do not resuscitate" order on an unresponsive child. A member of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Miskimins said the bill was "common sense."
Mitchell Chief of Public Safety Lyndon Overweg was concerned about House Bill 1056, which seeks to limit local governments from being able to impose restrictions on firearms. Overweg said Mitchell licenses pawn shops and tracks serial numbers and manufacturer information, and passing the legislation could make it harder to stop stolen property such as guns.
A second Mitchell cracker barrel with District 20 legislators is scheduled for noon on March 1.
Controversial gender bill has Klumb's support
One piece of legislation that didn't come up during the cracker barrel was House Bill 1225, which would, if passed, invalidate the South Dakota High School Activities Association's transgender student-athlete policy. The legislation, sponsored primarily by Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte, and Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, would require student athletes to participate in high school sports based on the gender listed on their birth certificate.
The bill follows Senate Bill 49, which was deferred on Jan. 24 by the Senate Education Committee. Klumb said he co-sponsored the bill because it's legislation he believes in.
"We've heard there's some issues in other parts of the state, where students are saying, 'This person will play against me,' they're playing girls basketball now, and they're way out-pacing (them)," Klumb told The Daily Republic. "It's not fair to the other students.
"I sympathize with that student and what they're going through ... but as far as making it as fair as possible for the most people, this can't be allowed," Klumb said.
In testimony on SB 49, SDHSAA officials indicated a small number of transgender student-athletes are currently competing in high school sports. Klumb admitted he knows he will receive a lot of heat for the issue.
"It's a sensitive issue and I care for the students involved but it's just not fair, it's inherently not fair," he said. "As lawmakers, we have to be as fair as we can be to everyone we serve."