The only District 20 cracker barrel of the 2021 legislative season in Mitchell unfolded on Friday morning virtually from the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce offices.
Just a handful of legislative days remain on the calendar for the session and District 20 Sen. Josh Klumb and Reps. Lance Koth and Paul Miskimins, all Republicans, said they have been pleased with the amount of progress made on bills, despite how business has changed with COVID-19 protocols in effect.
That has included more testimony done virtually and interactivity. Klumb said South Dakota’s legislature is one of the very few in the nation that has met normally despite COVID-19. The final day of the session is Thursday, March 11.
“We’re going to finish our business normally, and it’s a great credit to our state and the processes the Legislative Resource Council has put into place with remote testifiers,” he said.
Between the legislators, Chamber staff, and moderator Susan Kiepke, just seven people were in the room for the event, broadcasted online to limit potential COVID-19 exposure. About 20 viewers consistently watched it on Facebook during the hour-long event.
The three legislators spent a lot of time talking about the administration and dispersion of one-time funding and funding made available to small businesses through federal coronavirus aid legislation in 2020. They also discussed some housing initiatives at the request of the Chamber organizers.
“There are a lot of one-time funds that you have to use responsibly,” Klumb said. “There are years where $19 or $20 million is a lot and this year, there’s $400 million in one-time funds.”
As for marijuana legislation, Klumb said it seems likely that a bill will be approved to authorize medical marijuana in the state by Jan. 1, 2022. He said that’s a compromise between the July 1, 2021 date that voters had approved when they voted last year to start a program in the state, and Gov. Kristi Noem’s desire to delay it a full year to July 1, 2022.
He said he hopes that framework legislation will also be in place by the end of the session to regulate recreational marijuana if Amendment A supporters win in court and reverse a circuit court ruling that invalidated the 2020 constitutional amendment vote to legalize marijuana.
“We are committed to having rules in place and being ready no matter what happens,” Klumb said.
Klumb and Koth, in particular, defended the political smokeout process, which allows a defeated bill in committee to be brought back to the entire chamber if one-third of the chamber supports the effort. The Senate has had four smokeouts and Klumb supported the smokeout of House Bill 1217 — which would ban transgender girls from participating in high school sports — on Thursday.
“That’s a mechanism that our forefathers have put in there,” Koth said. “If a committee, for whatever reason, decides to make the wrong decision, there’s a way to revive that via smokeout and get debate. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Koth said he’s not usually as supportive of the smokeouts but said there have been bills purposely assigned to the wrong committees to get them killed.
A “stand your ground” bill, House Bill 1212, which would clarify a person’s right to use force, was also smoked out and revived. Klumb said he supports it because it’s not a gun rights bill, but because it pertains to violence of any kind, and Koth said it would update old language that didn’t cover a person’s property, such as a detached garage because a previous definition only covered what was attached to a house.
House Bill 1140, which will restrict the entry of conservation officers onto certain private land without permission, was revived by the Senate and will likely be heard on Monday.
Miskimins said one bill he’s glad to see passed was to help a needs-based scholarship for South Dakota college students. A $200 million endowment was kickstarted earlier this year with $50 million in donations and another $50 million from the legislature. He said the program will be set up so that South Dakota students attending private universities can benefit, as well.
“It will change lives. … It will be a big step for all of South Dakota,” he said.