Free birth certificates, ID cards for homeless people endorsed by House committee

ID card bill overcomes opposition from state driver’s licensing director

By: - January 30, 2024 10:30 am
State Rep. Kadyn Wittman, D-Sioux Falls, testifies to a legislative committee on Jan. 30, 2024 in Pierre. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

State Rep. Kadyn Wittman, D-Sioux Falls, testifies to a legislative committee on Jan. 30, 2024, in Pierre. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

PIERRE — Homeless people would be in line for free South Dakota birth certificates and state ID cards under the terms of two bills that advanced out of a state House committee Tuesday morning.

House Bill 1098 would allow for a waiver of the $15 fee attached to a request for a certified copy of a birth certificate. HB 1131 would waive the $28 fee for a state identification card.

A birth certificate is required for several social services, including photo identification cards. ID cards are required for a host of services and activities, including to apply for an apartment, to cash checks and to access certain health services.

HB 1098’s sponsor, Rep. Tyler Tordsen, R-Sioux Falls, told the committee that there may not be as many people experiencing homelessness in South Dakota as there might be in more populated states.

Even so, he said, it’s a growing problem. Free birth certificates would remove a barrier people might have as they work to improve their situation, Tordsen said.

“This is a low-hanging fruit, and yet meaningful for this population,” Tordsen said. 

HB 1131 is sponsored by Rep. Kadyn Wittman, D-Sioux Falls. It would remove another burden that stands in the way of self-improvement, she said. Nonprofits will often pay for the ID cards, but Wittman said relying on nonprofits from community to community isn’t the ideal way to ensure access to those cards.

“Relying on nonprofits to cover the cost of IDs for homeless people is impractical and unfair,” said Wittman, who formerly worked with homeless populations at the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House in Sioux Falls.

Access to ID cards and birth certificates is an investment, according to Julie Becker, executive director of the St. Francis House shelter in Sioux Falls. People with them can get back on their feet and pay child support, pay their rent, and pay restitution and fines.

“Our guests have paid over $563,000 back to the state just in one year,” Becker said of restitution payments. “How did that start? It started with them getting a birth certificate and ID.”

Both bills would allow nonprofits that work with homeless populations to attest to a person’s status as homeless through an affidavit. That attestation would allow the person to get the birth certificate or ID card. 

A fiscal note for the birth certificate bill says it would cost the state $16,623 in its first year. Committee Chair Kevin Jensen, R-Canton, described that price as relatively insignificant.

Rep. Tyler Tordsen, R-Sioux Falls, testifies in favor of a bill to offer free birth certificates to the homeless on Jan. 30, 2024 in Pierre. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)
Rep. Tyler Tordsen, R-Sioux Falls, answers a question about a bill to offer free birth certificates to the homeless on Jan. 30, 2024, in Pierre. (John Hult/South Dakota Searchlight)

The cost issue for the ID card bill provoked more opposition, though. That bill has no fiscal note. John Broers, director of driver’s licensing for South Dakota, said it’s not just nonprofits that currently offer to pay the cost of IDs for people in need. The Department of Corrections will pay for IDs, Broers said, as will the Department of Labor and Department of Health. 

“We’re getting IDs to the folks that need them,” Broers said. “You just need to know where to look.”

Broers also told the committee that driver’s licensing in South Dakota is funded by fees, not the general state budget. He said he was concerned that the bill has no limit on the number of IDs a person can get.

In her rebuttal, Wittman said the available routes for an ID are often too burdensome to help people with serious needs.

For the Department of Labor, she said, “yes, they will help you get your ID, but only after you’ve met with a job counselor three times in a month.”

“That might not sound like a lot to us,” she said. “But a month is a long time to be experiencing homelessness.”

Rep. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence, moved to amend the bill to allow people to only get one state ID card. Wittman called that a “friendly amendment,” as she said “my hope is that these individuals never have to take advantage of this again.”

Deutsch would go on to vote for the bill. The opposition was meaningful, he said, but not enough to outweigh the benefits.

“This is the greater good,” Deutsch said.

Rep. Erin Healy, D-Sioux Falls, moved to pass the ID card bill along to the House Appropriations Committee to review the fiscal impact. A similar bill failed last year, and Healy said “it was not a lot of money.”

“There’s a return on investment in this, and it’s only $28 per person,” Healy said. 

The birth certificate and ID card bills both passed unanimously and will move to House Appropriations.

 

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

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