State Rep. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, on the House floor during the 2023 legislative session. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)
Everything is OK in South Dakota. We’ve taken care of all our problems, big and small. We’re on the right track and no one can stop us now.
Cynics who read the above paragraph and don’t believe it should direct their attention to the Jan. 25 meeting of the House State Affairs Committee. During that meeting, the committee dealt with two pieces of legislation that prove we have no worries in the Sunshine State.
One bill the committee dealt with was House Concurrent Resolution 6006. This calls for the fair treatment of the Jan. 6 defendants who besieged the United States Capitol. The resolution says those prisoners have endured inhumane conditions; been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment; and been deprived of adequate food, medical care and access to religious services and attorneys.
Amended out of the original resolution, perhaps to make it more palatable to the committee, was a section saying the Jan. 6 defendants were exercising their First Amendment rights when they were breaking into the Capitol and have since been treated like terrorists. Another section amended out of the resolution said individuals who protested in the wake of George Floyd’s death were treated differently than the Jan. 6 defendants.
The resolution’s prime sponsor was Rep. Phil Jensen, a Republican from Rapid City. Jensen brought a show-and-tell for the committee — a real, live insurrectionist. Speaking in favor of the resolution was Treniss Evans III, who entered the Capitol illegally for nine and a half minutes on Jan. 6, resulting in a variety of federal charges. He was sentenced to 20 days in jail, 36 months of probation and a $5,000 fine.
Evans is the founder of a legal advocacy group dedicated to helping the Jan. 6 defendants. The group is called Condemned USA. That name, alone, does not seem to hold out much hope for the fate of the Jan. 6 defendants.
Jensen was the sponsor of another bill on the committee’s agenda that day, House Joint Resolution 5003. This resolution calls for bringing a constitutional amendment before the voters that would assure South Dakotans that they have the absolute right to forgo medical procedures like vaccines.
If lawmakers can spend their time bemoaning the fate of Jan. 6 insurrectionists or fight for the right to infect others by forgoing vaccines, then all must be right in our world.
Both resolutions were soundly defeated in the committee where they were delegated to the 41st day of the session, a procedure used to dispose of legislation. The resolution upholding the rights of Jan. 6 insurrectionists was defeated on a vote of 12-0. (It should be noted that concurrent resolutions don’t have the weight of law but only represent a snapshot of what lawmakers believe.) Jensen managed to convince one committee member about the need to establish a right to decline vaccines. That bill was defeated 11-1.
All in all, the House State Affairs Committee spent about an hour dealing with and disposing of Jensen’s resolutions. During any legislative session, many bills are assigned to the House and Senate State Affairs committees. The term “State Affairs” seems to cover quite a bit of terrain. A check of the agendas for the House State Affairs Committee shows that they have not missed a meeting yet this session. The same can’t be said for other committees that may have a narrower scope and not as much legislation to consider.
At this writing, there had been 380 bills filed in the current session of the Legislature with three days left in which any legislator could submit up to three more bills. In the South Dakota Legislature, each bill, no matter how daft, gets a hearing.
All of which gets us back to the topic sentence. If lawmakers can spend their time bemoaning the fate of Jan. 6 insurrectionists or fight for the right to infect others by forgoing vaccines, then all must be right in our world.
Every child in South Dakota goes to off to sleep in a warm bed with a full belly. Our senior citizens are cared for by loving staffs in cheerful facilities. Our Native American reservations have been wiped clean of poverty and drug abuse. Our schools are stocked with learned teachers who have the current technology needed to ensure that all the students are above average.
Toward the end of the legislative session, as the bills begin to pile up, the House State Affairs Committee is going to want back that hour it spent dealing with the Phil Jensen follies. Making state policies should be serious business. What it should not be is a method for lawmakers to try to establish their conservative bona fides by submitting legislation that manages to be both ridiculous and useless.
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