PIERRE, S.D. -- Three South Dakota lawmakers have introduced a bill hoping to prevent state officials from employing family members to the state.
Senate Bill 39 was introduced Sunday, Jan. 6. If passed, it would bar state employees from hiring or appointing their "parent by birth or adoption, spouse, son or daughter by birth or adoption, stepchild, brother or sister by whole or half blood or by adoption, brother-in-law or sister-in-law, or son-in-law or daughter-in-law" to a state employment position that would report to them.
The bill comes after Republican Gov. Kristi Noem in December appointed her daughter Kennedy Noem to her staff to work as a policy analyst. Kennedy Noem graduated in fall 2018 from South Dakota State University with a degree in political science and earns a salary of $50,000 in her role.
If the bill passes and a relative as defined by SB 39 is hired and paid, three times the amount of that relative's compensation would be deducted from the violating state official's pay.
The bill's primary sponsor, Republican Sen. Stace Nelson of Fulton, said he decided to file the bill after hearing from constituents who were "outraged" by Noem's appointment.
"Frankly, the voters that contacted me are right," he said, adding that similar legislation should have been filed "way back" during past administrations.
Noem is not the first governor to appoint family to positions with the state. Former-Gov. Dennis Daugaard's son-in-law Tony Venhuizen served as Daugaard's chief of staff, and several family members of former governor and current U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds were employed by the state during his time as governor.
Nelson was not yet a state senator during Rounds' administration, but took office the same year Daugaard did, in 2010. He did not introduce an anti-nepotism bill after Venhuizen's appointment, nor does it appear any of his colleagues did since 2014.
Nelson insists his bill "isn’t personality-driven," or meant to target Noem or her daughter.
Instead, he said "it's about the issue itself," which he called a long-running problem in the state. He added that nepotism contributes to Pierre's "culture of corruption" -- something that Noem campaigned heavily against leading up to her November election.
"Nobody wants to be put in a situation where they have to compete with the boss’s daughter or the boss’s son for advancement," Nelson said. "It is distinctly unfair to allow people into state employment who have a golden ticket."
In response to the bill's filing, Noem's spokesperson Kristin Wileman said in an emailed statement, "The governor is committed to filling her team with people who share her vision for building a stronger South Dakota for the next generation.... (T)he governor should have the ability to develop a team with trusted public servants who will work hard and deliver results for the state – regardless of their last name."
The bill, if passed, would not affect Kennedy Noem's position. It would apply to those hired after July 1.