District 7 legislators sponsor bills for COVID-19, scholarships and more


Brock Brown, Reporter (He/Him)

The 2021 South Dakota Legislative Session began on Jan. 12 with Gov. Kristi Noem’s State of the State address. With the second week of the nine-week session completed, nearly 200 pieces of legislation have been introduced. 

“It will be a normal session with close to 500 bills,”  Sen. V.J. Smith (R-Brookings) said. Of the bills introduced so far, topics include online voter registration, combining state agencies and making Juneteenth an official state working holiday.

Sen. Smith believes that the biggest issue the Legislature will debate is money.

“There is an enormous list of projects that people are putting forth, and each one of those needs to be discussed,” Smith said.

Unlike in previous years, South Dakota saw a dramatic increase in one-time funds due to federal COVID-19 dollars. Noem proposed in her annual budget address that South Dakota’s budget will exceed $5 billion, with over $100 million in one-time spending. 

Rep. Tim Reed (R-Brookings) says that work has already begun to talk about budget priorities whether it be the priorities of the governor, legislators or private organizations.

In the 2020 general election, South Dakota voters approved both an initiated measure and constitutional amendment regarding the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana respectively.

Reed and Smith both agree that the debate over marijuana regulation will be a hot topic this session. Smith said that he’s been hearing more conversation about medical than recreational marijuana because of the difference in time that the ballot measures take effect. 

“The voters have said they want it,” Reed said. 

Reed is also looking into issues that benefit South Dakota State University and the Brookings community. These include a bioprocessing initiative between SDSU and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and a needs-based scholarship. 

“To be honest with you … needs based scholarships are really number one to me personally,” Reed said.  

This stance mirrors a SDSU Students’ Association resolution,20-18-R, that states need-based scholarships are their “number one 2021 legislative priority” which was passed at the Jan. 25 SA meeting. 

Noem announced need-based scholarship legislation during the State of the State address Jan. 12. 

“The endowment for this critical scholarship fund needs $200 million to be self-sustaining into the future. Denny and PREMIER are getting us halfway there. Your action will get the fund to $150 million dollars. Together, let’s get it done.” 

Legislators may see a comparable amount of bills to previous years, but this session is not entirely the same. 

COVID-19 mitigation measures have been implemented, including remote committee testimony, plexiglas barriers and reduced room capacity, although masking policies differ between the two chambers. 

“About two-thirds of senators wear masks,” Smith said.

Legislation regarding the spread of COVID-19 has been introduced and is sponsored by all three of district seven’s legislators. 

According to Reed, HB 1046, “an act to limit liability for certain exposures to COVID-19,” addresses “big concerns for businesses,” and only those who deliberately tried to spread the disease would be liable.

With much of the session left and hundreds of expected bills yet to be introduced, it is uncertain what additional topics could emerge. Area legislators can be contacted via the South Dakota Legislative Council’s website, SDLegislature.gov.