After three weeks, the legislative process is in full swing in Pierre. However, some of Gov. Kristi Noem’s legislative initiatives are running into roadblocks on Capitol Hill.
The Republican-controlled legislature has rejected several of the governor’s proposals and is seeking to amend others.
Before the start of the legislative session, Governor Noem announced that she was bringing a bill requiring a minute of silence every day in all public schools in the state. Noem said the legislation restored protections for school prayer.
She even mentioned the proposal publicly in Iowa last year. But South Dakota school administrators were not consulted, and a legislative committee rejected the bill.
Allen Cambon is a political adviser to the governor’s office. During an exchange during a legislative hearing with Republican Representative Mike Stevens, R-Yankton, Cambon received pointed questions.
“Can I get a follow up? said Stevens. “My question was how many school districts did you contact?”
“We haven’t spoken directly with school districts about this bill,” Cambon said.
“So you haven’t told anyone about it?” Stevens said.
“I think it’s fair to say,” Cambon said.
Cambon says officials from the governor’s office have spoken with the state’s education department, which falls under the executive branch of government.
Landowners neighboring a proposed shooting range in Meade County are saying the same about another of the governor’s bills — which no one asked them. Larry Reinhold is a rancher and hosts Rainbow Bible Camp, which is about 3.5 miles from the proposed shooting range just north of Rapid City.
“Most of the landowners and ranchers around it really haven’t been integrated into it,” Reinhold said. “It was too much behind closed doors and nobody knew about it.”
Reinhold believes the Game Fish and Parks department failed to properly consult with nearby residents.
GF&P representatives say the proposal has been public since January last year and that’s when they started calling and knocking on doors. Lawmakers rejected $2.5 million in public funding for the project.
Another Governor Noem bill that is meeting strong resistance is a decision to expand a campground at Custer State Park.
Steve Saint is president of the South Dakota Campground Owners Association. This group opposes the proposal. Saint has a private campground near the park.
Saint says GF&P representatives consulted with the group on an original campground proposal, but not on the new plan.
“They pretty much changed every aspect of this bill,” Saint says. “We were not informed. I was actually at Pierre the day before these changes—from what I understand they had a meeting, didn’t include anyone else, made these changes, and posted them. I learned it from the news that evening.
In some cases, Republican lawmakers say the governor has proposed legislation focused on an already proposed bill.
Rep. Rhonda Milstead, R-Hartford, drafted a bill last year to stop transgender girls from playing women’s sports. This bill was eventually vetoed and Milstead is introducing a similar bill this year. But Governor Noem already has a bill moving through the legislative process on the same issue. Milstead says that’s not the only example.
“I can think of five off the top of my head. So legislators worked all summer on bills with our constituents and brought them to the table, but then the governor introduced a similar bill. That’s why you have to use the process,” says Milstead. “We have separation of powers for a reason.”
Other Republicans say there is still potential for improving communications in the legislative process.
Some Democrats say the political rejections are proof of Noem’s management style.
State Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, says if the executive branch doesn’t talk to lawmakers, it’s going to be in trouble.
“I saw his style become more extreme, less South Dakota-focused,” Heinert says. “Part of it has to do with who she hires in her office. There are very, very few people from South Dakota working in his office. Some of these tactics may work in other places, but I think they meet with a lot of resistance here in South Dakota.
Governor Noem says her office’s outreach has been excellent and far beyond what has been done in the past.
“Several lawmakers have brought the range and campsites to our attention and said it’s a priority. We did outreach and spoke with campground owners, with Black Hills residents before these proposals are included in my budget,” Noem said. “That’s what legislating is all about. It’s debate. It is also an opportunity for the public to come and share their thoughts and feelings on these policies. I would say standard operating procedure.
The governor still has several initiatives pending in the legislature. One would prevent abortion after six weeks, another would codify an executive order banning medical abortions outside of a licensed abortion facility. He is already in court.
However, the proposals garnered support from a national organization opposed to legal abortion, the Susan B. Anthony List. South Dakota’s Right to Life says that while it supports the governor’s anti-abortion stance, it does not comment on the bill. These abortion-related bills could deliver key legislative victories for Noem, who is finishing his first term as governor.