District 18 Lawmakers Give Mixed Reviews Of Noem's Speech

PIERRE — As the 2022 Legislature kicked off Tuesday, the District 18 lawmakers held different views on Gov. Kristi Noem’s “State of the State” address.

Rep. Mike Stevens (R-Yankton) believed Noem’s address emphasized the state’s positive standing compared to the rest of the nation, particularly during a pandemic.

“The governor’s speech was about putting people first, individual freedom and how that philosophy has benefited our state. Financially, where many states’ revenue has plummeted, our state’s economy has flourished for many reasons,” he said.

“People from other states have recognized this as well and, as a result, many families and businesses are moving to South Dakota. South Dakota is one of the top three states where people are moving. We are growing nine times faster based upon our quality of life.”

The South Dakota economy benefited from remaining open as a state in terms of no major lockdowns, Stevens added.

“This past year, we had a record year in tourism,” he said. “This is one of the factors that resulted in South Dakota’s revenue actually increasing more than $116 million than was estimated. Keeping our businesses open also attributed to this increase as well.”

However, Rep. Ryan Cwach (D-Yankton) criticized Noem’s speech for not addressing major issues facing South Dakota, particularly during the pandemic.

“I did not hear the governor address the concerns of people I have heard back home,” Cwach said. “I am hearing concerns about housing, child care, COVID-19, health care, employers’ difficulties filling open jobs and creating more economic opportunities for hard workers.”

Stevens pointed to areas in the State of the State address that he believes stress issues important to the Yankton region.

Noem addressed South Dakota’s mental health needs, Stevens said.

“(One) of the highlights for me was the fact that the governor’s budget includes helping fund regional crisis centers, which is very important, particularly for Yankton,” he said.

“The state is working very hard to deal with mental illness as well as the drug problem. In the past year, the overdose deaths in South Dakota dropped by 19%. With the pandemic, we are particularly concerned about our health.”

Those health concerns have gained even more attention during the pandemic, Stevens said.

“The state will be purchasing a million COVID tests so that every person in South Dakota can get a free test,” he said. “Further, the state will be continuing to increase our funding for telehealth so that every South Dakotan, wherever they live, can have access to medical care.”

Cwach saw the State of the State as more of a political speech. In contrast to emphasizing state priorities and uniting people, the speech sought to divide South Dakotans over hot-button issues fitting a national agenda, he said.

“We only have 37 days together as a state legislature,” he said. “We should be focusing on finding solutions to issues in our state instead of dividing ourselves over national political issues.”

The third District 18 legislator, Sen. Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton), couldn’t be reached Tuesday for comment on the State of the State address. However, she has spoken with the Press & Dakotan about the governor’s priorities, particularly on budget issues.

Hunhoff co-chairs the Joint Appropriations Committee, which plays a major role in determining the state’s projected revenue and in crafting the budget.

“I always begin that this is the governor’s recommended budget for consideration by the Legislature,” she said. “It is a starting point and a very high-level look at her priorities.”

Noem’s proposals address District 18 concerns, Hunhoff said.

“The 6% increase for education, providers and state employees covers a large part of the Yankton community workforce,” the state senator said. “Housing has been a constant concern for this community and some of the proposed (state) financing would provide assistance to address the needs.”

Child care remains another major concern for works in Yankton and the surrounding region, Hunhoff said. The $100 million in the proposed budget could be an option to increase access to childcare, she said.

In addition, the allocation for tourism could impact some of the local efforts for promotion and marketing activities, Hunhoff said.

Other priorities reflect the Yankton region, Hunhoff said.

“The expansion of Regional Behavioral Centers is a good fit for enhancing Lewis and Clark Behavioral Health in their efforts to support mental health needs region wide,” she said.

“Courthouse security has been an expressed concern by judges and those working in them. Finally, infrastructure needs exist in this community both with the city and county so, again, an opportunity to access dollars for specific projects.”

The influx of federal dollars allows South Dakota to pursue many needs, but citizens are also wary of any ongoing expenses that will increase taxes, Hunhoff said.

“The federal dollars will go away and/or return to a pre-COVID level,” she said. “It will be the taxpayer of South Dakota that will return to be the primary source of dollars to support state expenditures.”

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