When we can occasionally turn our attentions away from the dramas roiling our lives these days, many eyes will be turning toward Pierre and the start of South Dakota’s 2021 legislative session.
This year, that attention may be more important than ever.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still here, business may be far from usual at the Legislature this session. Safety protocols and general wariness will likely cut down the number of people who make it to Pierre this winter to present their viewpoints or issues to lawmakers. Some legislators have predicted there will be fewer lobbyists roaming through the capitol to talk to lawmakers and track legislation as it moves through the legislative process. Thus, more business could potentially be transacted beyond the view of citizens and advocates.
That could make things interesting the next two months.
States with what amounts to one-party rule are typically more prone to having governmental transparency issues. It doesn’t matter what state it is or what party is in power. As such, there is always the increased possibility or temptation that legislation can be pushed through with little oversight, unless those on the outside remain very vigilant.
It’s going to be up to a lot of entities to monitor what transpires in the capitol this winter.
One of the front-liners in this will be the state’s media. Frankly, this will be more challenging because general cutbacks through the years have reduced the number of reporters in Pierre. Those few who are there can’t be at every committee hearing or floor vote, which complicates the process. But these reporters will make every effort to cover what they can.
Lobbyists and advocates will also be monitoring matters in Pierre as closely as possible through digital means or, when possible, in person.
The citizens of this state also have a role in this, particularly by keeping in contact with their lawmakers to make their views known. Access to them may be more difficult this session — for instance, District 18 lawmakers will be holding virtual cracker barrels, but only two will be held this winter instead of the normal three — but providing that input is going to be essential.
In closing, let’s remember that most of our lawmakers are well aware of the access problems that will hinder this session and will work to be as open as possible with and accessible to their constituents about what’s happening in Pierre. They want to hear from you; don’t be afraid to exercise that line of communication.
This is going to be a fascinating session with several pressing issues on the agenda, including COVID-19 and marijuana. Under the current difficult conditions, staying informed and being heard will be more important than ever.
Let the legislative games begin.