South Dakota State Legislators debate session with COVID

Legislatures are beginning to consider what the next South Dakota Legislative session might look like in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Dakota State Legislature at the Capitol building in Pierre, S.D.
South Dakota State Legislature at the Capitol building in Pierre, S.D.(KOTA)
Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 7:16 AM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. (KOTA) - The South Dakota State Legislature is wondering what their next legislative session might look like in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

After it was revealed that the current Speaker of the House Steve Haugaard (R-Sioux Falls) had fought his own battle with the virus, the question of how “virtual” the next legislative session will be in January has only grown louder.

Speaker Haugaard confirmed that at least six members of the State House have also come down with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Haugaard said that most showed little to no symptoms in fighting the virus.

Haugaard himself does not believe that much should change before the next legislative session.

“Providing reasonable options for legislative members, and if members are just absolutely of the opinion they cannot attend the session, they may need to make decisions about if this is the right time for them to serve.” Speaker Haugaard said.

Almost all committee hearings conducted in the interim have been virtual. Further, “veto day” and the special session both were conducted with a virtual aspect. Lawmakers ran into some technological issues during the special session earlier this month, where roughly half of them attended in person.

State Representative Mary Duvall (R-Pierre) believes they will hash technological issues out in due time and have already started implementing the technology.

“The Legislative Research Council (LRC) has an app for legislators only, it is called ‘My LRC Plus,' so we have to go in and use that system to log our votes. It is the same system legislators use to request bill drafts and to request co-sponsors for our legislation.” Duvall said. Duvall is currently a member of the State House, running uncontested for the State Senate in District 24.

Many lawmakers have brought up the learning curve for newly elected legislators and how being at the Capitol in person is an important aspect of getting legislation passed and learning the ropes.

Most lawmakers have raised the idea of a “hybrid session."

However, the definition of a “hybrid session" varies.

“We will have Representatives and Senators that span the ages from their twenties to their eighties, and with many different healthcare needs out there. Preexisting conditions and things like that. I do believe we need to have a hybrid model of some sort.” said State Representative Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls)

The next legislative session is currently set to begin on January 12th, 2021. However, legislators expect to hear more in the coming weeks about how that session will look with COVID.