Legislature protects us from dangers we didn’t know existed

March 29, 2023 4:22 pm
Legislators and guests wait for Gov. Kristi Noem to deliver her budget address on Dec. 6, 2022, in the House chamber at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

Legislators and guests wait for Gov. Kristi Noem to deliver her budget address on Dec. 6, 2022, in the House chamber at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

It’s amazing the amount of effort that the South Dakota Legislature puts into protecting citizens from things they didn’t even know were a threat. Lucky us.

Consider ranked choice voting. That’s all you’ll be able to do — consider it. You’ll never vote that way because the Legislature just outlawed it. Held up as one of many bills in the recent session designed to enhance “election integrity,” it seems that ranked choice voting had to be prohibited to preserve the sanctity of the state’s elections.

If you’re unfamiliar with ranked choice voting, it’s a method of selecting candidates that allows voters to rank their choices. In a three-candidate race, the voter would make a first choice, then a second, then a third. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, the votes from the bottom candidate are split between the top two. It’s a method designed to avoid runoff elections. Sounds interesting, but, according to the Legislature, it had to be banned before anyone here could try it.

With the Democratic Party basically missing in action when it comes to finding enough candidates to fill out a ballot, the only place in South Dakota elections with multiple candidates is likely to be a Republican primary. It’s easy to wonder if there’s something about ranked choice voting that makes Republicans squeamish since they’re the ones who rammed it through the Legislature.

Lawmakers tried to protect us from transgender people by prohibiting certain medical and surgical procedures for minor patients. This bill prohibits sex change operations for minors and outlaws certain medications called puberty blockers. Legislators inserted themselves into the doctor’s exam room even though, during testimony on the bill, opponents were adamant that those kinds of surgeries don’t take place in South Dakota. Opponents also asked for more leeway to use puberty blockers, since they have other medical uses rather than just paving the way for a sex change.

On the topic of transgender youth, the Legislature has long taken on the role of school yard bully. Instead of lunch money, it wants to extort freedom from a small group that has a hard time defending itself. Don’t we all feel safer now?

There are times when the Legislature wants to protect us, but that pesky First Amendment gets in the way. That was the case with House Bill 1116, which would have prohibited the use of state resources to host lewd and lascivious acts. This bill was inspired by a drag show at South Dakota State University that was advertised as “kid friendly.”

Certainly, the exhibition at SDSU could have done with some better marketing. However, that’s hardly an excuse to run out and make a new law. After various hearings and votes, that was the conclusion that lawmakers came to as well.

The bill cleared the House on a 60-10 vote but failed in the Senate Education Committee. An attempted smoke-out to bring the bill to the Senate floor failed, too.

It was ultimately hard to tell what lawmakers were protecting us from when they summarily killed Senate Bill 125. The bill would have prohibited schools from adding more immunizations to the list of shots that students are supposed to get in order to attend public school. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, explained that the list of school immunizations could be expanded to include COVID shots.

You’ll recall that Frye-Mueller’s enthusiastic approach to her anti-vaccine beliefs led to her being censured by her Senate colleagues. After a lengthy hearing, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee killed the bill on a 7-0 vote. Instead of protecting us from rogue school districts that would force students to get COVID vaccinations, maybe the committee chose to protect us all from Sen. Frye-Mueller.




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Dana Hess
Dana Hess

Dana Hess spent more than 25 years in South Dakota journalism, editing newspapers in Redfield, Milbank and Pierre. He's retired and lives in Brookings, working occasionally as a freelance writer.