Five things you missed from the S.D. Legislature

Near-silence on abortion from interest groups, family leave and "The Great Golf Cart Debate."

Rep. Mike Derby, of Rapid City, explains the task ahead of appropriators in the coming weeks during a Republican news conference on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — The 98th legislative session is more than halfway through, as lawmakers in the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre near the frantic final weeks of deadlines.

The past two weeks have seen the bulk of committee work, with dozens of bills mercilessly cut down in the rooms dotting the building’s fourth floor.

Looking ahead to the coming week, Feb. 15 will see appropriators adopting the final revenue projections for the session, kicking off the consideration of the dozens of bills looking for a piece of record revenues. Rep. Mike Derby, of Rapid City, the House’s top appropriator, said the work on the key committee is only about 10% done.

“Back in the day, it was a lot easier to be an appropriator because if you don't have any money, it's kind of like, ‘No, no, no and hell no,’” Derby, who also served on appropriations from 1997 until 2002, said. “And that was kind of a simple way of appropriating Now we have a lot of money in the system, one-time spending and ongoing revenue that we're going to be taking a hard look at.”

Here are five things you may have missed during a week dominated by pipelines, transgender bill debates and prisons.


Abortion almost entirely absent from session after tabling of medical clarification

In a reversal from last summer, when the potential for new legislation on abortion following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health led to calls from Gov. Kristi Noem and lawmakers for a special session, the topic has been noticeably absent from the legislative docket.

While one major piece of legislation attempting to better define the exception in state law for saving the life of the pregnant mother had been introduced by Republican Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, of Sioux Falls, that fix for doctors in the state is no longer coming this session, as she tabled the legislation in an emotional testimony on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

“I would never have possibly imagined that a bill protecting a woman's life could be so contentious,” Rehfledt, who is currently pregnant and has a high risk of clotting during pregnancy, said during her testimony prior to tabling the bill. “I would have never thought that the idea of preserving the life of the mother would be debatable or even considered not pro-life by some. Who would think that being pro-life could mean that we do not protect women? That we are not willing to provide clarification for doctors who have given their lives to caring for not just one, but two patients.”

Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, a Republican from Sioux Falls, takes her place on the House Health and Human Services committee following an emotional testimony over the tabling of House Bill 1169, which would have clarified medically necessary abortions.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

In the Democratic leadership news conference later in the week, Rep. Erin Healy of Sioux Falls placed the blame for the relative lack of proposed changes from either side of the abortion debate on the shoulders of organizations such as South Dakota Right to Life.

“It’s the stronghold that anti-choice organizations have on the state Legislature, that’s the establishment that exists,” Healy said. “It’s reaching a really dangerous point where we aren't listening to physicians and the need for clarification."

Dale Bartscher, the executive director of South Dakota Right to Life, had no comment on the tabling of Rehfeldt’s bill.

The only other abortion-related proposal on the legislative docket is a bill to cement into statute that any woman “subjected to an unlawful abortion … may not be held criminally liable for the abortion,” a proposal that would codify statements from Noem that she has no desire to prosecute mothers.

Though not in the realm of abortion specifically, the Noem administration has been active in proposals dealing with paid family leave and foster children, thus far with mixed results.


Bills targeting cannabis ‘pop-up shops’ move forward

Two proposals from Rep. Fred Deutsch, of Florence, to better monitor how and where doctors in South Dakota can prescribe medical cannabis to patients, have moved out of the House and onto the Senate.

“I don't know what else we do to protect South Dakotans,” Deutsch said in responding to opponents during House debate over one of the proposals on Feb. 8. “I mean, that's really the purpose of this bill is to protect South Dakotans.”

The first proposal, House Bill 1129, puts into statute more specific language regarding the “bona fide relationship” required between physician and patient for the prescription of medical cannabis, including full consideration of medical history as well as follow-up considerations.

The second, House Bill 1172, requires the prescription to occur in certain medical facilities.

The bills, which passed the House 37-30 and 47-21, respectively, on consecutive days this week, are both responses to the supposed phenomenon of “pop-up shops,” where entrepreneurial health care providers will sometimes advertise to patients seeking medical cards and give out dozens of cards in a single day from a hotel or a “bar backroom in a strip club,” according to Rep. Kevin Jensen.

Rep. Fred Deutsch, a Republican from Florence, defends his cannabis bill during a House debate on Feb. 8, 2023.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

Were they to become law, violating either proposal would ban providers from prescribing cannabis for six months, potentially costing an active provider tens of thousands of dollars, according to Deutsch.

Opponents of the bill felt they would have a chilling effect on South Dakota’s budding medical cannabis industry, with new regulations and punishments on doctors making an already hesitant pool of medical professionals even more unlikely to sign up for the program.

“Patients are having issues with access from the good actors. And what I mean by that is, when you have a patient that wants to legitimately get a medical marijuana card, their providers are hesitant already,” said Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, of Sioux Falls, who served on the Medical Marijuana Oversight Committee “So what happens? They have to go to a bad actor. This bill does not help that, it makes it worse.


During a committee hearing over the bills earlier this week, Deutsch said that combining the two bills into one is still a possibility.

The Amazing Sponsor-Man

What do pesticide dealers, volunteer firefighters and Native fishing access all have in common?

One potential answer is they’re all topics included in bills co-sponsored by Rep. Carl Perry of Aberdeen, who is in the midst of his third term in the South Dakota Legislature.

While writing about legislative issues, the words “prime sponsor” and “co-sponsor” often come up, usually indicating that certain lawmakers feel strongly about the issues addressed by a bill.

Being the prime sponsor of a bill from the introduced chamber (i.e. a House Bill corresponds to a representative and a Senate Bill to a senator) means that the lawmaker worked on developing the proposal directly with the Legislative Research Council, which is in charge of drafting bills properly.

Each proposal can have only one prime sponsor in each chamber.

Next, the bill’s prime sponsors can send requests to potentially supportive lawmakers through the Legislature’s content management system, known as MyLRC, where legislators manage schedules and look through bills. As lawmakers get these requests, they can click to add their names as co-sponsor of the legislation.

Among the 450 bills bouncing around the legislative ether, the bulk of lawmakers will serve as a prime sponsor or a co-sponsor on around 30-50 bills. Only about a dozen reach the mark of 70 sponsored bills.


With 192 sponsored bills, Perry is the clubhouse leader and a far-and-away outlier. Only one other lawmaker even crosses 100 sponsored bills — Rep. Scott Moore, of Ipswich, who has put his name on 111.

Rep. Carl Perry, a Republican from Aberdeen, speaks during a floor debate on Jan. 31, 2023.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

“I've tried to be involved in as many things as possible,” Perry said of his philosophy when it comes to sponsoring bills. “Just because you sponsor something doesn't necessarily mean that you'll vote in favor, but what it means is that you think this has enough merit to at least go to committee and then possibly go on to the floor.”

First half of Noem’s family leave proposal moves to appropriators

A proposal to allow private businesses and local governments in South Dakota a way to offer employees at least 60% of wages for up to 12 weeks of paid leave, covering the time after the birth of a child or adoption as well as while caring for a family member, is on its way to appropriators after a unanimous vote by the House State Affairs committee on Feb. 8.

“This is a pro-life policy that proves that we care about women, children and families every step of the way,” Rachel Oglesby, the chief of policy with the governor’s office, said about the proposal. “The future of the pro-life movement lies in initiatives like this, taking care of mothers and babies before birth and after.”

The paid leave program contained in House Bill 1151, were it to pass into law, would be administered by a private insurance group. The state of South Dakota will be the first entity to buy into the program, which will cover 80% of leave for state employees over 12 weeks. The state will buttress the other 20% of wages with general funds, covering the full salaries of state employees who take leave.

The proposal would cost the state an estimated $3 million per year on insurance premiums, though the state would save on direct payments to employees.

Private employers and local governments will have the option to buy into the program, which should be able to offer lower rates due to the scale of participation. These buyers would be able to negotiate with the insurance provider and tailor the program, though entities must offer employees between 60% and 80% of wages.

The proposal drew the support of insurance providers, advocacy groups for women and state business groups during committee, arguing that the leave program would allow healthy bonding for mothers and their children and act as one of a slew of proposals looking to bring more people to the state’s job market.


It’s also important from a competitive standpoint, Oglesby pointed out. In Minnesota, lawmakers are looking at a state-administered paid leave program that would cover around 80% of wages for an employee whose earnings match the state’s average wage.

“We can be fiscally responsible while also taking care of families,” Oglesby said. “And our businesses and cities near the Minnesota border are going to need an option like this to help them compete for workers.”

Senate Bill 154, a proposal offering $20 million in grants over four years to private businesses, makes up the second half of Gov. Kristi Noem’s initiative to jumpstart paid leave in the state. It will act as an incentive for private businesses, especially smaller ones, to join the leave program, offering some businesses up to 50% of their annual premium costs.

That proposal should be heard in the Senate Health and Human Services committee during the coming week.

Gov. Kristi Noem delivers her State of the State address to a joint session of the state legislature on Jan. 10, 2023.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

‘The Great Golf Cart Debate’ consumes the Statehouse

Golf carts may be coming to a road near you, as long as posted speed limits are below 25 miles per hour.

Under current law, this form of open-air transport is barred from traveling on roads outside of municipalities, unincorporated townships and state parks, unless the golf cart is crossing a highway at a right angle to maneuver between these allowed areas.

House Bill 1215, sponsored by Rep. Tim Reisch, of Howard, which passed the House 44-24 on Feb. 8, seeks to change that. Reisch explained that some residents in his district, including around Lake Madison, currently have to break state law in order to drive their golf cart from their lake house to the course.


“It’s the surrounding areas where people closer to the lake or on the routes to the golf course can't drive their privately owned golf carts to the golf course,” John Nelson, an attorney in Madison who owns a lake house near the Lakes Golf Course in Wentworth, said during committee testimony earlier in the week. “With the law as it currently stands, if they were to be stopped by the sheriff out there, they could be ticketed with a class two misdemeanor.”

During committee testimony, Joel Peterson, the assistant superintendent in charge of field operations with the South Dakota Highway Patrol, was concerned with the safety of higher-speed vehicles getting out of the cart’s way, explaining that only a handful of highways in the state have speed limits of 25 miles per hour, and several of these are short stretches interspersed with higher-speed segments.

But a more existential question came up during floor debate: what is a golf cart?

“I've seen golf carts that seat eight people and can probably do 70 miles an hour,” Rep. Kirk Chaffee, of Whitewood, said to scattered laughs in the chamber.

Reisch assured Forum News Service that golf carts under the proposal are defined in state law, and they are: “a four-wheeled vehicle originally and specifically designed and intended to transport one or more individuals and golf clubs for the purpose of playing the game of golf on a golf course.”

The bill will move at a reasonable speed over to the Senate, where it should be heard in committee in the coming week.

“The Biden administration hasn't done enough to keep Americans safe," the governor said during her remarks, positioning South Dakota as an example of how states can protect American interests.

Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at
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