It was a busy year in state politics, beginning with the inauguration of Gov. Kristi Noem as South Dakota’s first female governor in January.
Noem signed “Constitutional carry” into law in her first bill signing in January, delivering on her campaign promise. But her first year in office hasn’t been without controversy as she’s opposed the Legislature on legalizing industrial hemp, announced her new anti-meth campaign and introduced two riot boosting bills aimed at Keystone XL pipeline protesters.
The state also saw Noem announce that fireworks will return to Mount Rushmore in 2020, the Pentagon launch drug surveillance balloons and the South Dakota Democratic Party face financial uncertainty this year.
Here are the top five state political topics you read about in 2019:
Meth. South Dakota’s on it.
“Meth. We’re On It.”
It was a phrase heard ’round the world.
Noem’s anti-meth campaign, “Meth. We’re On It,” was unveiled to South Dakota in November and went viral within hours. Noem and some state lawmakers declared it a success because it got people talking about South Dakota’s meth problem, but it was largely panned by South Dakotans, who saw it as the state declaring that everyone is a meth addict.
South Dakota businesses also criticized Noem’s administration for sending the dollars out of state when it hired Minneapolis-based ad agency Broadhead Co. instead of a South Dakota agency to create the campaign.
The state has paid Broadhead nearly $975,400 so far. The company has a contract with the state Department of Social Services for the campaign that states the costs shouldn’t exceed $1.4 million.
Additionally, evidence-based meth prevention programming is going into more than 40 middle schools statewide as part of $730,000 slated to support schools in the anti-meth campaign.
As of mid-December, 81 people have called or texted the “On Meth” campaign’s helpline and 12 people have been referred to treatment, according to the Governor’s Office.
Noem’s proposed 2021 budget also has about $3.7 million earmarked for intensive meth treatment and public safety work on the meth epidemic.
Oglala bans Noem from Pine Ridge
Noem’s legislation to allow the state to sue “riot boosters,” aimed at Keystone XL pipeline protesters passed the Legislature less than 72 hours after Noem announced it.
It also got Noem banned from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council unanimously decided in May that Noem was no longer welcome on the reservation until she rescinded support for her riot boosting legislation.
The tribal council lifted the ban in early December after Noem and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota reached a settlement in October that the state won’t enforce some parts of the riot boosting laws.
Noem said in May that she would respect the council’s ban and not visit the reservation. Now that the ban has been lifted, she’ll be planning a visit to Pine Ridge soon.
Noem is planning to propose legislation in the 2020 session to make some language changes to the riot boosting laws, but her administration was criticized this month for not attending a State-Tribal Relations Committee meeting to discuss it when tribal leaders showed up.
The battle over hemp
Industrial hemp remained out of reach for South Dakota farmers in 2019.
Noem and the Legislature have dug themselves in on opposing sides of the hemp debate since Noem vetoed the bill legalizing it during the 2019 session. The bill passed the Legislature, but Noem was concerned that legalizing hemp will legalize marijuana by default because law enforcement can’t tell the difference between the two.
The Senate was a few votes short of overriding Noem’s veto in March, and lawmakers have spent the interim months studying the hemp issue and writing a new bill for the 2020 session. Noem has already announced that she’ll veto a hemp bill again if lawmakers try to legalize it, setting up another fight between the two branches over hemp in 2020.
‘In God We Trust’ in schools
South Dakota also gained national attention in July when the new law went into effect requiring all public schools in the state to post “In God We Trust” in a prominent location.
Legislators switched between requiring and allowing schools to post the national motto, but they settled on mandating it in the final days of the 2019 legislative session.
The new law received the attention of Fox News contributors, who applauded the idea. But some on social media expressed concern that the law was the epitome of “Christian privilege.”
Noem wants more pheasants
Noem announced her new Second Century Initiative in January to boost pheasant hunting in the state.
But the details of the program proved controversial with some legislators and conservationists.
Approval of $1 million for a new Second Century Habitat Fund to boost the creation of pheasant habitat was stalled until the final hours of the 2019 legislative session over lawmakers’ concern that the funding would primarily benefit East River and commercial operators. After narrowly passing, the state dollars are now controlled by a nonprofit that is completely separate from state government.
Noem’s administration also created a new bounty program in which the state paid $10 per raccoon, striped skunk, opossum, badger and red fox tail in an effort to lessen the number of pheasant predators in the state. The bounty prompted questions about its effectiveness during a public hearing in April and legislators rejected the program’s rules in May before approving them, but the state implemented the bounty before the April hearing.
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