“And ‘round and ‘round we go
Where it stops nobody knows
And it ain’t slowin’ down
This merry go ‘round”
“Merry Go ‘Round” — Kacey Musgraves
In the 2012 debut single from Kacey Musgraves, the catchy lyrics of “Merry Go ‘Round” talk about the struggles of simply accepting the life laid before us and struggling through rather than fighting for a different path, which then leads to the next generation doing the same, and so on and so forth.
Covering the South Dakota Legislature can feel a lot like that same path.
The names change, but the patterns remain the same.
A governor putting forth bills with an eye to the next office, multiple legislators pandering to their side of the leading party of the state with bills to further push their caucus’ agenda, and more attempts to make it difficult for the voters to actually have a voice.
And ‘round and ‘round we go…
The legislature has just completed its second week of work as this column is published, and even that is misleading. The first week of the state’s legislative time has a significant amount of time in ceremonial addresses - the State of the State, the State of the Judiciary, the State of the Tribes, and I’m sure somewhere in there a State of the Corn and a State of the Cows was also presented, but I missed the live coverage on South Dakota Public Broadcasting for those.
So, legislators have really spent one full week presenting bills for consideration this session. And already, there are some doozies.
For one, the massive number of bills means there will be plenty of not reading that gets done, and some of the important issues that should be covered are going to likely be glossed over. With nearly 200 bills and resolutions proposed already, and nearly 800 bills referred to committee last year, it is understandable why there are some who question whether the legislative session needs to be extended.
However, when there is a joint resolution already proposed that would limit the ability for the voters to bring constitutional amendments to a vote, it brings worry that those in Pierre may already be a bit power drunk, and giving them more days to add more laws may only result in more laws that limit freedoms for those who are not in Pierre or funding those who are in Pierre.
There’s also a bill, Senate Bill 55, that will prohibit ranked-choice voting in South Dakota.
Is ranked-choice voting the best system for voting? That can be debated, but it often leads to a better overall representation of the will of the people than a straight ballot, especially when multiple people are being elected for a position.
While the implementation of ranked-choice balloting in some areas of the country has had hiccups, it has gone very well in other parts of the country. Those who want to rail against the voting option cite “blue state” failures or lengthy ballot-counting post-election due to the procedure, but multiple states, which are definitely “red,” have implemented ranked-choice voting and seen it work well.
There’s really no reason that it should be taken out of the hands of the voters to decide if that’s something that the voters want to utilize.
Now, are there good, hard-working legislators in Pierre? Absolutely, and that’s why some of these issues will face a fight, but there are a notable amount of elected officials who are not only proposing these bills, but are also more than happy to sign their name to them.
One of the things that will require the hardest work is trying to balance out Governor Kristi Noem’s proposed elimination of the sales tax on food. Noem announced her proposed bill, and since she made the announcement, multiple other proposals have also dropped regarding the food tax.
Whether the tax on groceries will be eliminated completely, cut in half, or left alone completely is something that will likely require plenty of negotiation between the Governor’s office and legislators, and it could mean that many of the hundreds of other bills dropped over the next few weeks won’t receive the same attention.
However, throughout all of this, some legislators are continuing to try to work toward supporting all South Dakotans and providing freedom to every resident of the state.
House Bill 1092 proposes revising the definition of marriage within the state from a man and woman only and also removes a provision that does not recognize same-sex marriages.
For many, this will be an issue that they don’t want to support. They will rally behind some idea of a “gay agenda” pushing its way into South Dakota politics.
In this state, we have the ability for someone who has had an elongated opposite-sex relationship with someone, but never married, to receive post-death benefits upon the passing of a partner.
Someone in South Dakota who is legally married to their partner that happens to be same sex does not have the same rights, so upon building a life together for 20, 30, or 40 years and going through the process of going to a different state to legally recognize that love, when the spouse passes, a same sex partner is left with nothing in this state because insurance companies are allowed to do so.
The first step to ensuring equal treatment for everyone is to ensure everyone is using the same words.
When things like insurance and taxes are influenced by a word like “married,” it’s a big deal to make sure it’s not something being held over others due to life choices that you may or may not like.
No one is refusing to allow those who are straight and divorced the ability to obtain a driver’s license.
No one is saying that life insurance benefits should not apply to anyone who ever smoke or drank or was overweight.
Life choices that don’t align with your own don’t give you — or I — the right to deny someone the ability to live their life.
Thankfully, some of our lawmakers are fighting to ensure all of us have the ability to enjoy living under the freedoms that so many fought for in this country.
Sadly, they’ll also be fighting against many who want to take away basic freedoms as well.
And ‘round and ‘round it goes…