SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A COVID-19 safety protocol to require masks for the South Dakota Senate, but not the House of Representatives, is being proposed by those chambers' leaders for when lawmakers convene in Pierre for the 2021 legislative session next week.

A separate protocol "encouraging," not mandating, persons on the House side to wear facial coverings is also being proposed, according to a statement on Wednesday, Jan. 6, from the South Dakota Legislative Research Council.

Reed Holwegner, director of the research council, cited the "ongoing public health concerns over COVID-19" as cause for the precautions.

Legislative rules committees will meet next week to finalize safety protocols.

Other protocols include limited seating in the galleries and the possibility of remote attendance and voting by legislators "under certain circumstances" and "with leadership approval."

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"Members of the legislature have battled COVID themselves, had family members contract it, or been exposed to others who had had it," said Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, incoming president pro tempore, in a statement.

On Tuesday, Schoenbeck, a Watertown Republican, told Forum News Service he contracted the virus last month but suffered only mild symptoms.

He said 12 state senators had confirmed to him they'd tested positive and were symptomatic for COVID-19. The body comprises 35 total members.

House Speaker-elect Spencer Gosch said legislative leaders had spent the "past several months" preparing COVID-19 protocols for the session, which kicks off next Tuesday.

"Even in a pandemic, government still needs to act," said Gosch, a Republican from Mobridge.

At least one legislator —Sioux Falls Democrat Rep. Linda Duba — has publicly called for legislators to work remotely this session.

Legislators in neighboring North Dakota approved a mask mandate at the statehouse for their session, which got underway this week.

Legislators also met this week in Minnesota, with lawmakers taking oaths virtually via Zoom.