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Talk of special session thrown around like 'parade candy,' says South Dakota Senate leader

In a meeting of the legislature's executive board on Tuesday, Aug. 31, staff attorneys presented a memorandum on special sessions, and there was little talk on a session some members floated for later this year to outlaw vaccine mandates in businesses.

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Lee Schoenbeck
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PIERRE, S.D. — The bubbling-up threat of a special session of the South Dakota legislature to ban vaccine mandates appears to have hit a wall, after a new memorandum from legislative staff closes the door on adding the controversial topic to an already-scheduled session this November.

Following a presentation of the memorandum by a staffer from the Legislative Research Council on the history and parameters of special sessions, Huron Republican Rep. Roger Chase asked if it's possible to add "any other new legislation" to the agenda.

"The only legislation that can be passed is what is detailed in the proclamation," said Brigid Hoffman, legislative attorney.

Later, co-chair of the legislative executive board and Senate Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck scoffed at prospects for a special session, noting, "That phrase 'special session' has been getting thrown around like parade candy lately."

Last month, two conservative members of the South Dakota GOP caucus — Rep. Scott Odenbach of Spearfish and Rep. Jon Hansen of Dell Rapids — floated a bill via social media to to ban vaccine mandates in private businesses, such as healthcare companies. The House Speaker, Rep. Spencer Gosch, later said he thought such a measure could be raised in a special session .

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Talk of other special sessions on numerous topics — from marijuana to eligibility for sex-segregated sports — has been bandied about since the legislature declared sine die in muddled formation on a transgender-banning sports measure and attempts to stall the effective date on the state's new medical marijuana program.

But the talk has been little more.

Just last week, Gov. Kristi Noem called out Odenbach and Hansen as "chasing headlines" in an interview, saying she opposed the state government restricting private employers from requiring vaccines of employees.

Currently, the state legislature is set for a special session on November 8 for redrawing the political boundaries for their own states.

Under state law, both the governor and state legislature can call for a special session of the body, though the legislature requires a two-thirds majority. According to LRC records, since 1990, the legislature has only called for special sessions in conjunction with redistricting efforts.

Earlier in the executive board's meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 31, the state's LRC staff also issued memorandum dovetailing with a collapse of a transgender bill that Gov. Noem insisted to a national television audience died not by a veto but by a "style and form" revision.

Justin Goetz, acting chief research and legal analyst, presented a memo that dug into historical roots of what is called the "amendatory veto," showing that South Dakota is one of a handful or states with such a provision — and maybe the only in the nation where the veto is limited to "errors in style and form."

"There are no hard-and-fast rules on the use of the style-and-form veto," Goetz said, though he noted the legislature has always concurred with changes that are purely grammatical and not substantive.

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The legislature did not concur with Noem's recommended changes to HB 1217, the transgender sports bill. Under " 2021 Bills Vetoed by the Governor ," the LRC website lists HB 1217.

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