It is now six hours past 3:41 a.m. when the 2020 legislative session officially ended. I am analyzing what really happened on veto day.
I ran for office believing I served the people of my district and of South Dakota. My focus was making quality of life for South Dakotans the best it could be on all fronts. In fact the oath of office says “to serve the people of South Dakota.”
Monday’s bills and votes made me wonder if the Legislature has lost that perspective. The majority of the South Dakota Legislature seems convinced that government engagement with public health and safety in emergencies should be only at arm’s length. Does that serve the greater good? It appears that many in the Legislature believe the pandemic is not a serious threat to public health. Our beliefs are based on our individual experiences. I hope that the experience of losing a loved one to the coronavirus is not what it will take for these folks to believe that this is serious.
In the bills that were brought forth by the governor to address this pandemic, three areas of concern surfaced in the debate:
• the potential for government to infringe on constitutional rights,
• the overreach of government,
• and the timeframe for the sunsetting of emergency legislation.
Where does public health and the protection of our citizens come into play? Is it the job of the governor and the Legislature to protect the citizens?
The challenge is that this public health issue is invisible to the human eye. We can’t see it and it is potentially all around us. The Secretary of Health has the resources including the state epidemiologist, the state lab, the medical providers of this state and the CDC; we as a Legislature have ourselves. The governor put forth legislation that would enhance the ability to protect our citizens during this pandemic event. It allowed for local control to do what works best in communities.
It is people’s behaviors that dictate the spread of coronavirus. Is it not in the best interest of communities to utilize their abilities to manage those behaviors (to reduce the deaths associated with this disease)? The Legislature chose to not allow some of those local efforts to proceed because of what may happen. The data is suggesting what may happen — more positive exposures, more deaths and a failing economy.
What did we do?
• We put forth listing the virus in our contagious disease and enforcement statute; and we assured that there were no limitations related to firearms and weapons during instances of governmental authority, disasters, terrorist attacks or emergencies.
• We kept the primary election on June 2, 2020. We did allow flexibility for elections scheduled to be held from April 14 through May 26 to choose any Tuesday in June as an alternate election date and require following requirements if doing so.
• We allowed for unemployment assistance during the coronavirus crisis to be exempt from business experience ratings and declared an emergency.
• We allowed waivers for extending drivers licenses and CDL renewals during the governor’s emergency declaration not to exceed 90 days past the end of the declaration time frame.
• We waived the time frame for hours for education in the K-12 systems and waived assessment testing for the school year as required by the feds.
• We created a small business economic disaster relief sub-fund which will provide zero interest loans up to $75,000 for businesses with 250 or fewer employees.
• We revised the general appropriations act for fiscal year 2020 to include: a pool of federal authority for BFM available to transfer to agencies as needed for $55.7 million, additional 6.2% FMAP equating to $27.8 million, WIC $1 million, reemployment authority and 10 FTE at $3.8 million, and home delivered congregate meals at $1.2 million for a total of $89,644,852. This is the first phase of federal dollars to the state.
What we did not do: give counties the ability to put ordinances in place in the event of a public health crisis; declare an emergency and allow the Secretary of Health to order closure or place reasonable restrictions on the use of public or private locations, if reasonable and necessary to slow or prevent the spread of communicable disease during a public health emergency.
We supported the style and form vetoes of the governor and not the vetoes of HB1012 and HB1013.
I encourage you to go back and listen to the debate on the bills that were addressed concerning the emergency legislation for Public Health Safety. The coronavirus is real; it is deadly. We as a community now have cases, which means there is exposure. My job has always been to serve and protect the public both in my professional and personal life. I look to our citizens and our community to work as a team in prevention, detection and treatment. We need to give our leaders the tools they need to keep us safe.
I want to thank all health care providers and leaders in our community for their outstanding efforts toward managing this crisis.