HURON — The first “Coffee with the Legislators” of the 2024 South Dakota legislative session was held Saturday morning at the commission room of City Hall. The event was sponsored by the Huron Chamber and Visitors Bureau Governmental Affairs Committee. District 22 legislators Representative Roger Chase, Representative Lynn Schneider, and Senator David Wheeler were all present to discuss the start of the session and answer constituent questions.
The legislators each gave opening comments, led by Chase. He noted that the first coffee is always the easiest because, “we haven’t done too much damage yet.”
Chase noted that while both chambers have had the same number of bills (192) proposed to this point, the more “controversial” bills in Chase’s eyes are still to come, likely dropping this week.
Rep. Chase was the first of the legislators to note the speed of this year’s session compared to the past, beginning with having the State of the Judiciary and the State of the Tribes speeches on the same day rather than two separate days, allowing law makers to get right to work Thursday of opening week holding hearings on bills and bringing some bills to the floor already on Friday for vote.
Rep. Schneider followed, also noting the speed of the session thus far. He observed that the bills that have moved so far haven’t had a significant “money impact” because the legislature often likes to wait until February to get the final tax numbers from the entire previous calendar year before making decisions on budget and how to fit everything into those numbers.
Sen. Wheeler laughed and stated, “Me, too!” to his fellow legislators.
The first question from the audience regarded autonomous vehicles. Rep. Chase discussed the current bill on this as the prime sponsor in the House on the bill. He noted that there are many more things that will need to be done on autonomous vehicles, but this at least puts something into place where there is nothing on the books currently.
“It’s important to get that foundational legislation in place,” Chase said, also noting that while many are concerned about the potential changes, autonomous vehicles are safer as they remove the human element from driving.
Rep. Schneider echoed Chase’s statements, bringing the example of Wal-mart utilizing semis to move product within the company’s home state of Arkansas as an example.
The legislators were asked on local versus state control, with the three legislators referring primarily to local versus state control on pipeline issues and other issues that cross multiple counties.
The sentiment from the three legislators is that the goal is to have local entities set the standard above all, but that “reasonable” limits should be set and that consistent rules on things like set backs across counties should be in place.
Gayle Kludt of Lake Byron asks a question of the District 22 legislators.
They were also asked about the potential of building a nuclear power facility within the state and handling the waste. Chase noted that what has been presented is a request to explore the possibility of such a plant.
Chase and Wheeler both noted that this would not be a full-size nuclear plant. These plants would utilize modular nuclear reactors rather than the full-size reactors, so the waste can be stored on site at this time.
Nuclear was noted by all three legislators as an alternative to solar and wind in the attempt to move electricity creation away from carbon-based production.
Wheeler was the primary legislator asked about SJR 501, regarding work requirements for expanded Medicaid.
Wheeler explained that the joint resolution that has passed the Senate authorizes the state to ask the people of the state about a work requirement, if the federal rules allow for such a requirement.
The legislators were asked about HCR 6008, regarding abortion being codified into the state’s constitution. The legislators were united in stating that they are pro-life and, while compromise could be had from current legislation on the books regarding abortion, the current proposed constitutional amendment goes too far.
Sen. Wheeler addressed putting abortion into the constitution. He explained that from the point of the Roe decision, abortion was held as a judicial law, not something that could be worked with politically through ballot measure or the legislature. His concern is that putting abortion into the constitution, whether for or against, could politicize the judiciary due to how a particular judge would vote for or against abortion questions, and that simply politicizes the judiciary, something Wheeler stated removes the ability for the people to debate the parameters of the law.
A question on where medical cannabis sits, with nearly five percent of all bills dropped so far addressing some element of the medical cannabis law, was answered by Wheeler, as he explained that the work of the bills proposed this year work “around the margins” as the main points of the bill have been ironed out the last few years.
In closing statements, Wheeler discussed multiple bills regarding strengthening laws around child pornography in the state. He mentioned that multiple bills were brought together to send a comprehensive bill on child pornography forward, and that has now passed the Senate.
There will be two more coffees with District 22 legislators on Feb. 10 and Feb. 24.