Special Legislative Sessions

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As Veto Day drew to a close, the Governor indicated she would be working with legislative leaders to schedule a Special Session to deal with three issues:  fairness in women’s sports, medical marijuana, and the latest round of COVID relief money.   The Legislature has already set aside November 8-9 as a time to meet in Special Session to vote on legislative redistricting. 

The State Constitution allows the governor to convene a special session by issuing a proclamation.  Only business encompassed in the proclamation can be addressed during the special session.  Interestingly, the constitution allows the special session to include either the entire Legislature or either house alone. 

Historically, special legislative sessions have been reserved for emergencies that need to be addressed before the next regular session convenes.  In the past 25 years, there have been nine special sessions.  Two dealt with redistricting the legislature, one temporarily increased the fuel tax to help pay for roads damaged by the winter of 1997, one established funding for the underground lab at Homestake Mine, one dealt with sale of the state cement plant, one was to establish an insurance risk pool, one addressed public access to nonmeandered waters; and one dealt with taxing internet sales.  Last year, we held a special session to deal with the first round of COVID relief funds.

Special sessions are generally only one or two days long and cost approximately $50,000 per legislative day.  Often, the entire legislature meets as a committee of the whole and the typical opportunity for public input is somewhat limited.

Among my Senate colleagues, many agree that the issue of fairness in women’s sports can be addressed when we convene next January.  According to the High School Activities Association, this issue currently does not affect any students in South Dakota.  Also, by next session, there may be some guidance from court actions in other states on this issue which will allow crafting a bill that will either avoid or survive court action.

Several potential changes to the medical marijuana initiative were discussed during the regular session and ultimately did not pass.  However, a special session might be appropriate to make tweaks to the measure to make it more workable.

In reference to the latest round of COVID relief funding, the Senate has indicated a willingness to let the Interim Committee on Appropriations sift through federal guidance on the issue and then decide if any action needs to happen before the legislators convene in January.

Interim Work is Underway

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Legislative work is not confined to the 37 days we are in Session.  Before the 2021 Session ended, we were already working on interim topics.  I think that interim work is invaluable.  There is ample time to do in-depth research on an issue and to work with interested South Dakotans to fine-tune good policy for our state.

I will be working on three specific topics between now and the start of the 2022 Session: legislative redistricting, timber land assessments, and township and county road and bridge needs.  The legislative redistricting work will be done through a formal committee process.  The other two are informal work groups.

I am also serving on the Executive Board of the Legislative Research Council.  The E-Board identified four topics for formal interim committee work:  marijuana, workforce housing, delivery of mental health services, and mental health of first responders. These will be in addition to statutory interim committees such as the Ag Land Assessment Oversight committee, Government Operations and Audit Committee, appropriations, retirement laws, rules review, and State-Tribal relations.

In addition, this year South Dakota will host the 75th Annual Meeting for the Midwestern Legislative Conference for the Council of State Governments.  This annual conference provides a time for legislators from eleven midwestern states and adjoining provinces to build cross-state friendships, learn with and from legislative colleagues, and participate in professional development workshops. 

The legislative interim is also a good time for constituents to reach out to their legislators with questions and concerns about issues that need to be addressed.  For issues that need a change to state law, the earlier your District 24 legislators can start on those, the better.

Please feel free to reach out to me, Rep. Mortenson, or Rep. Weisgram at any time with ways we can work for the good of South Dakota.