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Noem pushes back on legislative misses, calls it 'standard operating procedure'

South Dakota's governor has opened the 2022 session with stumbles on Custer State Park campground, school prayer and a shooting range.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem budget address
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem delivers her budget address on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in the house chambers inside the state capitol in Pierre.
Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic
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PIERRE, S.D. — Gov. Kristi Noem pushed back on claims she's faced any inordinate number of swings-and-misses in the first three weeks of the 2022 legislative session, calling her and her staff's efforts so far as "standard operating procedure."

But the Republican governor, entering the fourth year of her first time, has seen priorities hit a legislative wall — from a school prayer bill to a proposed, large campground addition to the tourist-friendly Custer State Park in the Black Hills.

Moreover, in many of these measures, word has emerged that the governor's staff had not fully reached out to constituents or key point players on these measures.

In testimony Friday, Jan. 21, for example, prior to a vote that sank the school prayer measure, a staffer for the governor admitted under questioning her office hadn't contacted any schools .

But Noem noted the season is still early.

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"I would say that our outreach has been excellent and far and above beyond what it's been in the past," said Noem, who said she held telephone town halls with legislators "for months."

If so, however, the buttonholing hasn't yet come to fruition on key infrastructure projects. A proposed shooting range construction in rural Meade County was defeated in committee this week, and a $10 million plan to add 176 campsites in Custer State Park has drawn significant public opposition, the House ag committee chairman told South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

(Noem circulated a scaled-back plan on Wednesday, Jan. 26; the bill comes before a committee next week.)

Regarding the proposal, Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert said at a news conference that the measure would violate the reason many people flock to Custer State Park: the wildlife.

"If you know anything about animals, whether that's 66 camp sites or six or 176 ... you go put that into Custer State Park," said Heinert, "that's going to change the migratory habits of those animals. And that's the beauty of Custer State Park, that those animals can live as they were intended to live."

House Minority Leader Jamie Smith , D-Sioux Falls, even pointed out that the proponents of the campground project had failed to perform an environmental impact study.

GOP leaders on Thursday morning pushed back on the notion that the governor's team hasn't properly laid groundwork for her bill's success this session.

"We're at the end of week three of a nine-week process," said House Majority Leader Kent Peterson , R-Salem. "The finished result is what really matters."

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House Assistant Majority Leader Chris Johnson , R-Rapid City, said their caucus faced a double-edged sword, adding that if all the measures had sailed through, they'd be asked, "Why are you guys just rubber-stamping everything of the governor's?"

Noem will likely see legislative victories on plans to further limit abortions in the state. And on Thursday she debuted a bill to specifically codify vaccine exemptions for religious and other objections that could pacify some of the hardliners in her caucus.

In addition, there's the vaunted bingo tax removal that received bipartisan adulation at her state of the state. That bill , observers say, is a safe bet to reach her desk.

Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at cvondracek@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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