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Legislative Roundup: Noem says no three times, but leaves big questions unanswered


Legislative Roundup: Noem says no three times, but leaves big questions unanswered

Mar 10, 2023 | 3:10 pm ET
By John Hult Seth Tupper
Legislative Roundup: Noem says no three times, but leaves big questions unanswered
Gov. Kristi Noem speaks at the Calvin Coolidge Foundation conference at the Library of Congress on Feb. 17, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Gov. Kristi Noem has not vetoed the Legislature’s “historic” sales tax cut this week – which lawmakers passed Thursday in spite of her opposition – but she did flex her veto power.

Noem issued her first veto on March 2, using a cattle “VETO” brand on a bill that would have allowed local business improvement districts to hike their hotel taxes. Lawmakers tried to bring it back to life this week, but failed to get the required two-thirds majority.

Two more vetoes landed on Thursday, the last day of regular session. The first knocked out Senate Bill 108, a bipartisan proposal to allow students between 18 and 21 years of age to taste alcohol as part of college courses on beer brewing or culinary arts. Noem cited potential difficulties for police, who might smell alcohol on students’ breath but be unable to write an underage drinking ticket without investigating their coursework.

Governor Kristi Noem uses a custom branding iron dipped in ink to issue her first veto of the 2023 legislative session. (Courtesy of the Office of the Governor)
Governor Kristi Noem uses a custom branding iron dipped in ink to issue her first veto of the 2023 legislative session. (Courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

The other Thursday veto landed on Senate Bill 129. That one would’ve upped the criminal classification to a felony for assaulting school employees during school activities. Noem’s veto news release characterized the change as a “special treatment” bill. Current law makes it a felony to assault a law enforcement or correctional officer. Noem said SB 129 would open the door for other “special treatment” requests from other types of public employees.

The last veto of the week came early Friday morning, when Noem said no to House Bill 1193 for what she called an “attack on economic freedom.” The “attack” was the bill’s attempt to write cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin out of South Dakota’s definition of money. Noem’s other issue with the bill was about its acceptance of Central Bank Digital Currencies – which do not exist in the United States – as a form of money. As written, Noem said, the bill paved the way for the federal government to be the sole issuer of digital currencies in the future. 

The Freedom Caucus, a group of lawmakers that considers itself more conservative than the rest of the GOP caucus, applauded the veto.

The Legislature will return March 27 to consider vetoed bills. By then, Noem may have acted on the tax cut compromise and state budget adopted on Thursday. Also unsigned: SB 146, often called “truth in sentencing,” arguably the biggest change to South Dakota’s adult criminal justice system in a decade.

We’ll learn more in the coming days and weeks. 

For now, see below for an update on bills we’ve been tracking.



New prisons

Lawmakers sent Noem two bills allocating about $400 million for the design and construction of two new prisons. One would be built in Rapid City to ease the burden of the overcrowded women’s prison in Pierre. The other would replace the South Dakota State Penitentiary, a 142-year-old building whose design makes it unsafe for inmates and staff. Noem proposed the funding, but has yet to sign the bills. The location for the new penitentiary has yet to be determined.

Diet weed regulations die

HB 1226 would have forced the Department of Health to write rules regulating the testing and marketing of Delta-8 and Delta-10 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The chemicals are hemp-derived cousins of Delta-9 THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana. The two chemicals produce a similar “high” when ingested, albeit to a lesser degree, and products containing them are widely available to anyone older than 21. The Senate could have sent the bill to the governor, but chose to table it instead.

Medical marijuana

Final legislative passage came this week for SB 1, which would bring more specificity to the debilitating medical conditions that qualify a person for a medical marijuana card. Current state law defines those conditions broadly. SB 1, if signed by the governor, would insert a list of seven specific diseases and conditions into the law. The bill would also eliminate a section of existing law that lays out a public process for petitioning more conditions onto the list.

Repeat drunken driving 

HB 1170, which would attach mandatory minimum sentences to people convicted of driving under the influence four or more times, made it through the Senate on Monday on a 23-12 vote. It was delivered to the governor Wednesday to sign or veto.

Domestic violence

SB 50 will make it easier for prosecutors to charge domestic abusers with witness tampering, as it earned Noem’s signature this week. The law will make it clear that attempting to convince a victim to recant testimony is grounds for a new crime. Witness tampering is a class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.

Nursing home funding

The Senate rejected House Bill 1167 on Monday. The bill would have required 100% cost reimbursement every year for nursing homes and other community service providers that rely on government programs to fund patient care. But the next state budget, adopted Thursday, includes 100% reimbursement, and HB 1167 prime sponsor Rep. Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls, pledged to keep advocating for 100% reimbursement each year.

Foreign ag land

The governor signed HB 1189 into law Wednesday. It will require South Dakota companies to disclose whether they own agricultural land and whether any of their owners are foreigners. Companies will have to do that when they file already-required annual reports to the Secretary of State’s Office. The new law is part of a broader push to counteract foreign ownership of ag land. An existing state law already includes a 160-acre limit on ownership of ag land in South Dakota by foreigners from some countries.

Petition perjury

People who circulate petitions to put a question on the ballot have to sign a verification promising they followed the rules: that they’re residents of South Dakota, that to the best of their knowledge all of their signatures are from registered South Dakota voters, etc. SB 46 would introduce a penalty and make it a felony to lie as part of that verification process. The governor signed the bill Monday.

Inmate records

Legislators sent SB 53 to the governor this week. It would close the disciplinary records of jail inmates from public view.