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Legislative Roundup: Direct democracy, abortion, pipelines and property rights take center stage


Legislative Roundup: Direct democracy, abortion, pipelines and property rights take center stage

Feb 26, 2024 | 7:00 am ET
By Seth Tupper John Hult Makenzie Huber Joshua Haiar
Legislative Roundup: Direct democracy, abortion, pipelines and property rights take center stage
An audience listens to a hearing on proposed pipeline legislation at the Capitol in Pierre on Feb. 15, 2024. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

Bills addressing pipelines, property rights, abortion and direct democracy are provoking strong opinions from legislators as they begin the final two weeks of their annual lawmaking session at the Capitol in Pierre. 

Democrats are calling House Bill 1244 an assault on citizens’ rights to gather the thousands of petition signatures necessary to place questions on statewide ballots. The legislation would establish a process for people who regret signing petitions to remove their signatures.

Republican Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, has said people are being duped into signing a petition for an abortion-rights ballot measure, thinking they’re signing a petition to repeal the state sales tax on food. The same group is circulating both measures, hoping to place them on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Senate Minority Leader Reynold Nesiba, of Sioux Falls, said that concern is a ruse. The reality, Nesiba said, is that Hansen realizes the abortion-rights measure will pass if it makes the ballot.

“Jon Hansen is going to lose, and so he’s willing to cheat to win,” Nesiba said during a weekly Democratic leadership press conference.

The House has already passed the bill. Its next stop is the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, several pending bills address a potential carbon dioxide pipeline. The multi-billion-dollar project, proposed by Summit Carbon Solutions in Iowa, would capture emissions from ethanol plants in multiple states and transport it in liquefied form for underground storage in North Dakota. Federal tax credits incentivize the project as a way to prevent the release of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere.

The South Dakota portion would include nearly 500 miles of pipeline. Some landowners have signed easements granting Summit the right to cross their land in exchange for payments, but others are refusing. The holdouts could end up in court, where Summit could seek to use a legal power known as eminent domain to gain access in exchange for payments determined by a judge.

Legislative attempts to prohibit the use of eminent domain have failed. Republican leaders are instead focused on three bills that are still alive. Two of those would establish greater financial safeguards and property protections for landowners, and the other would allow counties to impose a surcharge on pipelines while also barring them from enacting zoning rules strict enough to regulate gas or liquid pipelines out of existence.

House Majority Leader Will Mortenson, of Fort Pierre, said during a Republican leadership press conference that the bills would protect property rights while keeping South Dakota “a state where you can still get things done.”

“We’ve got a regime set up to be the strongest legal framework of any of the states that are potentially going to have this pipeline, and that’s something we can be very proud of — if we get the job done,” Mortenson said. “If we don’t, if those bills die, landowners get nothing.”

Following are status summaries of some other bills South Dakota Searchlight is monitoring.

Shifting inmate defense costs to the state

The House unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that would make the state responsible for the legal defense fees of inmates who commit crimes behind prison walls, rather than the county where the prison is located. The bill’s next stop is the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Free IDs, birth certificates for homeless people

Legislation to help homeless people obtain personal documents is advancing. House Bill 1098, which would allow for a waiver of the $15 fee attached to a request for a certified copy of a birth certificate, passed the House 53-15 on Tuesday. HB 1131, which would waive the $28 fee for a state identification card, passed the house 57-11 on the same day. Both bills are headed to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

‘Diet weed’ regulations

The twisting path of complicated legislation to address products sometimes referred to as “diet weed” took another turn Wednesday. 

Active ingredients in the products can be extracted from legally grown hemp and labeled as delta-8, delta-10 and THC-O, among other names. Rep. Brian Mulder, R-Sioux Falls, wants to ban the products when they’ve been chemically modified to boost their psychoactive properties.

The bill was amended earlier in the House to make it clear that only synthetic versions of delta-8 would be illegal. That amendment earned some support from representatives of the hemp industry and sellers of the products.

But in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the bill was amended again to include more expansive language that industry representatives oppose. Some said the new language would devastate dozens of small businesses that sell the products.

Nevertheless, the new version of the bill passed the committee 7-0 with senators expressing a desire to close what they described as an unintended loophole in hemp legalization. The bill now heads to the full Senate.

Medical marijuana regulations

Legislation that would make several changes to existing medical cannabis laws is headed to the governor after passing the House on Thursday. It includes adjustments to probation policies for dispensaries that run afoul of regulations and a requirement that the names of medical cannabis card holders be added to the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. Currently, anyone prescribed a narcotic is listed in that database, used by providers to check for doctor-shopping by addicts.

Another bill that passed the House Health and Human Services committee on Friday would repeal a provision in existing statutes barring law enforcement from inspecting dispensaries, manufacturing facilities, or testing facilities, or from seizing their cannabis. 

Stiffer fentanyl sentences

The House Judiciary Committee voted 10-1 on Friday to send a bill to the full House that would put drug dealers who knowingly sell fentanyl to someone who later dies of an overdose in line for longer sentences.

Clemency applications

A bill headed to the governor after passing the House 63-6 on Thursday would change how long inmates sentenced to life in prison have to wait between applications for clemency, such as a reduced sentence or parole. The bill says when such inmates are denied a clemency request, they would have to wait four more years before applying again.

Sex assault evidence

Bills that would make it easier for prosecutors to tell jurors about previous sexual assault allegations in rape trials met different fates last week.

A House vote Thursday on Senate Bill 97 failed 32-37. That bill would have allowed such evidence in adult sexual assault cases.

Senate Bill 98, which would allow such evidence in child sexual assault cases, advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously on Wednesday.

Summer child food program

The Joint Appropriations Committee voted 13-4 on Friday to reject a bill that would have included South Dakota in a summer food program for children. 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls, said 36 other states have opted in to the program. South Dakota has chosen not to, even though the federal government would cover the food costs and half of the administrative costs to give low-income families preloaded cards to buy groceries during the summer months. Opponents expressed concerns about potential misuses of the cards and unforeseen expenses if the federal government reduces its share of the funding.

Mandatory life sentences for raping children

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-1 on Thursday to reject a bill that would require sentences of life without parole for people convicted of raping young children.

Child support in fatal drunken driving cases

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-0 on Thursday to send legislation to the full Senate that would require drunken drivers who kill parents to pay child support for the victims’ children.

Triple juvenile justice aid to counties

The state would triple the amount paid to counties for keeping kids out of the juvenile justice system under a bill approved Thursday by the House Appropriations Committee. Senate Bill 47 would push the per-kid payment for successful “diversions” from $250 to $750. It now heads to the full House.

Registering to vote with tribal ID cards

A bill that would allow Native Americans in South Dakota to register to vote using their tribal identification cards was tabled at the request of prime sponsor Rep. Tyler Tordsen, R-Sioux Falls, on the House floor Friday. Tordsen told lawmakers that “misconceptions” about the bill led to his request. He plans to work with stakeholders before the next legislative session to improve the bill and, if he is re-elected, introduce an amended version.

Teacher pay

A bill that would establish a statewide minimum teacher salary and tie that and a district’s average teacher compensation to legislative increases in state aid passed the House with a 58-9 vote. The bill will now head to the Senate Education committee.

Conducting a state-wide study on child care

A bill that would require the state Department of Social Services to conduct a state-wide study on child care needs and costs passed out of the Joint Appropriations Committee on Friday with a 16-2 vote. The price tag on the bill was amended to $1, which is a way of keeping the bill alive  and under discussion past a deadline for spending bills to advance out of the committee.

Creating an Indian Child Advisory Council

A bill that would establish an advisory council to foster conversations and gather data on the overrepresentation of Native American children in the state’s foster care system passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Friday with a 4-2 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

Statewide public defender office

A bill to establish a statewide public defender office passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote on Thursday and heads to the Senate floor.

The office would cost $1.4 million annually and would help alleviate the financial burden counties face in providing legal representation to criminal defendants who can’t afford an attorney. Counties would still shoulder much of the burden, with the state office taking on only some types of cases.

Phonics instruction

A bill allocating millions of dollars to the state Department of Education to provide professional development in phonics-based reading passed the Joint Committee on Appropriations on Friday. The price tag was amended to $3 million instead of $6 million.

Policies on ‘obscene’ books

A bill that would require school districts and public libraries to publish policies on restricting minors from accessing obscene materials or books sailed through the legislative process. It’s headed to Gov. Kristi Noem’s desk next.

Incorporating cities

Gov. Kristi Noem has signed a bill making it easier for some communities to become incorporated cities. The bill, which was motivated by the community of Black Hawk, would retain a requirement for Black Hawk to petition Rapid City for annexation before trying to become a city in its own right, but would remove a requirement for Black Hawk to additionally petition the city of Summerset.

Future Fund accountability

Responding to recent controversies about a fund controlled exclusively by the Governor’s Office, lawmakers sent a bill through the Senate in a 31-3 vote Wednesday that would require greater oversight of the spending. Governor Noem’s uses of the fund last year included $2.5 million for a Governor’s Cup rodeo in Sioux Falls and $5 million for her Freedom Works Here workforce recruitment campaign, which stars her in a series of advertisements. The latter also came under scrutiny for allegations that the politically connected Ohio firm chosen to conduct the campaign stole the idea for it from a South Dakota firm. 

Foreign-owned ag land

A bill that would ban ownership of agricultural land in South Dakota by people, companies and governments from six countries, including China, passed the Senate in a 30-2 vote. The bill awaits the governor’s consideration. 

‘Obscene’ content on campuses

A Senate committee passed a bill on Friday that would ban “obscene live conduct” at state universities. Opponents view it as a veiled attempt to target drag shows. Proponents say they are giving legal teeth to an existing Board of Regents policy. 

Hunting in blaze pink

A bill to add blaze pink as a legally recognized hunter safety color passed a Senate committee Thursday in a 7-0 vote. It awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

Higher mining sureties

The House voted 62-3 on Friday to pass a bill that would increase the state’s financial protections against some types of abandoned mines. 

The legislation addresses sand, gravel and construction-aggregate mines. Mine operators already have to post a surety, which is cash or a financial instrument the state can seize to clean up a mine if the operator doesn’t complete the work. For the types of mines addressed in the bill, that surety is currently $500 per acre or a statewide “blanket” of $20,000 — amounts that haven’t changed since the 1980s. 

The legislation would increase those amounts in phases up to to $3,850 per acre and $300,000, respectively, by 2029. Because the House tweaked the bill’s phased increases, the Senate must now consider the changes from its version.

911 surcharges

A bill to increase funding for 911 call centers by raising phone customers’ monthly surcharge from $1.25 to $2 per line failed to reach the two-thirds majority it needed to pass. However, Senate lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to have the bill reconsidered at a later date. In 2023, the existing surcharge generated about $12.47 million in revenue. With the proposed increase and assuming no change in the number of service lines, the projected revenue is approximately $19.95 million. The surcharge has not been increased since 2012.

SDSU dairy

A bill that would repeal $7.5 million in state funding for South Dakota State University to construct a new dairy research and training facility passed the House of Representatives 48-16 and the Senate 28-5, and awaits consideration by the governor. The original funding bill, which passed in 2021, was intended to support the development of a state-of-the-art dairy facility, but the university was unable to raise enough matching donations to construct the facility.

Tax credits for ethanol sales

A bill to incentivize the sale of more ethanol was signed by the governor on Tuesday after cruising through both chambers. The legislation outlines a new tax refund that would be in effect from 2025 to 2030. It would allow gas stations to claim a fuel tax refund of up to 5 cents per gallon of E15 fuel sold. E15 is 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline, which is a higher blend of ethanol than the typical E10.

Unclaimed property

The House voted 39-30 on Wednesday to approve a bill that would require the state treasurer to seek permission from the Legislature to increase the office’s budget for finding unclaimed property owners. The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Habitat plates

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 5-0 on Friday to send a bill to the full Senate that would allow vehicle owners to buy special license plates to support wildlife habitat conservation.


The House voted 63-5 on Tuesday to support a plan to create the Dr. Nicholas W. Drummond Center for Civic Engagement at Black Hills State University, to “provide undergraduate students with the foundation to succeed as lifelong citizens and future leaders in political, economic, and civic life.” The Senate Education Committee will consider the bill next.

Candidate nominations

The latest of many legislative attempts to change the way political parties nominate some candidates for statewide office was tabled Friday by the House State Affairs Committee. The bill would allow gubernatorial candidates to choose their own running mates without having to get the choice approved by delegates at a party convention. It would also move the nomination of candidates for attorney general and secretary of state from party conventions to party primary elections.

Quantum computing

SB 45 would offer about $3 million for a Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology, which would be a partnership between multiple state universities. The dollar amount was revised downward by the Joint Appropriations Committee on Friday from $6 million before passing 18-0.

Water and wastewater funding

The Joint Appropriations Committee passed legislation Friday that would appropriate $89.38 million in remaining federal American Rescue Plan Act money for local water and wastewater projects around the state. The committee also approved a bill that would appropriate $12.83 million in ARPA money for various state government water, wastewater, and stormwater projects.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a correction. An earlier version incorrectly stated the next step for a mining surety bill.