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Retirement finds the Legislature's only homemaker

PIERRE -- When it comes to occupations, State Sen. Phyllis Heineman is the only member of the South Dakota Legislature who lists "homemaker." Homemaker seems so retro, when modern times place so much emphasis on professional attainment and gender...

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PIERRE - When it comes to occupations, State Sen. Phyllis Heineman is the only member of the South Dakota Legislature who lists "homemaker."

Homemaker seems so retro, when modern times place so much emphasis on professional attainment and gender equality and political correctness.

So call her rebel.

Heineman, R-Sioux Falls, leaves the Legislature as this year ends. The former teacher's first piece of legislation was to appropriate $4 million for a school voucher program.

That was back in 2000. It didn't pass.

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She didn't give up. During the 2015 session, she tried legislation establishing a scholarship program to help students attend private schools. It didn't pass.

Once again she didn't give up. During the 2016, her scholarship plan passed and the governor signed it into law.

Insurance companies fund the scholarships through donations. The companies get deductions from their state insurance premium taxes, for up to 80 percent of the donation amounts.

Last month she reported the program's progress during her final meeting as a member of the Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee.

She said Sammons Financial Group gave $150,000 and Avera Health later gave $100,000. The money provided 280 scholarships that averaged about $750 to students at 38 schools.

The legislation capped the program at $2 million annually in a calendar year. As Heineman left the meeting that November afternoon, she talked about trying to get more money in the weeks remaining in 2016.

"We're thrilled where we're at," she said.

One of the private board members overseeing the new program's administration is State Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City.

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As the House Republican leader the past two years, and the lead House sponsor both years, Gosch was key to getting the legislation through the House on its second try.

He too is leaving the Legislature when this year ends.

Heineman focused session after session on school innovation, student achievement and government accountability during the 15 years she served in the Legislature.

She received an appointment, in 1999, from then-Gov. Bill Janklow to a vacant seat in the House of Representatives. She replaced State Rep. Dana Windhorst, R-Sioux Falls.

Heineman won election to four consecutive terms in the House. Up against the constitution's term limits for legislators, she ran for the Senate in 2008 and lost to Democrat Scott Heidepriem.

It was her only defeat. In 2010, as Heidepriem ran for governor, Heineman won the Senate seat for their district. She posted victories again in 2012 and 2014.

Now she's at the end of a very good run. The Legislative Planning Committee has adopted her emphasis on better tracking the performance of state agencies and departments.

She was an impassioned believer in the Teach for America program that brought novices from across the United States to work in needy schools especially in Indian country.

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Just as she wanted to keep fundraising for the scholarship program, she drilled down at that last GOAC meeting, probing why the state's massage therapy board hasn't deterred more illegal activity since its creation in 2005.

"What are we missing?" she asked.

Phyllis Heineman didn't fear raising questions or speaking her beliefs.

Or listing "homemaker."

Rebel, indeed.

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