PIERRE, S.D. -- Friday, Feb. 8, officially marked the halfway point in South Dakota’s 40-working-day 2019 legislative session. Here are some of the highlights from the legislature’s fifth week in session:
Two bills are up for consideration this session that would allow the growth and production of industrial hemp in the state. The move comes after Congress in December passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized the production of hemp on the federal level.
One of the legislature’s two bills, House Bill 1191, received the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee’s unanimous approval on Thursday. But Republican Gov. Kristi Noem on Friday urged lawmakers to table hemp legalization discussion until next year, saying the state “is not ready” for the crop.
Noem declined to say whether she would veto the hemp bills if they passed both chambers, but she said the state should wait until more hemp production guidelines are released by the federal government before giving South Dakota farmers the green light.
Even if HB 1191 were to be signed into law, Noem noted that it does not take effect until July 1 -- too late for hemp to be produced in the 2019 growing season.
Free speech on college campuses
Despite opposition from the state’s Board of Regents, the House Education committee on Wednesday passed House Bill 1087, which aims to “promote intellectual diversity” on the state’s public college campuses.
The bill seeks to codify a free speech policy for the universities, which the board contended is not the job of the legislature. In fact, the board enacted a free speech policy in December in response to concerns raised.
The bill also includes a section that would require students to take an additional six course credits in United States government and history in order to graduate and to pass a United States citizenship exam.
Noem told reporters on Friday that she thinks the bill is worthy of consideration, but that she has concerns about the additional cost burden that would be put on students as a result of additional course requirements.
U.S. citizenship exams for graduation
The House Education committee also this week on Friday passed House Bill 1066, a bill recommended by the governor’s office that would require high school students to pass a United States citizenship exam prior to high school graduation.
The bill is part of Noem and the legislature’s push to encourage civics education in the state. Noem initially proposed the idea during her January State of the State address, where she was met with a standing ovation from the legislature.
The House on Friday passed by a 53-16 vote House Bill 1056, which would prohibit local governments from imposing additional taxes, fees or licensure requirements on gun purchases. The bill now moves onto the Senate.
Cellphones while driving
The House by a 40-30 vote passed House Bill 1088, which would establish a misdemeanor, primary offense for those who use their cellphones while driving, with few exceptions. Under current law, texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning it can be charged in addition to a primary traffic offense, but an officer cannot pull a driver over only for using a phone while driving. The bill now moves onto the Senate.