Gov. Kristi Noem pitches 'Veto Day' shutout on final day of South Dakota session
On the final day of session, lawmakers sustained all four of the vetoes Noem handed down over the past two weeks.
PIERRE, S.D. — Gov. Kristi Noem pitched a shutout on Monday, March 27, or “Veto Day,” with lawmakers failing to pass all four of the bills the governor decided to return without signature.
The only true flip for the governor was a high-profile veto on alterations to the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), where Noem and a coalition of conservative lawmakers reversed 19 votes in the South Dakota House of Representatives, defeating the bill with 30 votes in favor and 37 opposed.
“I think Gov. Noem definitely has a lot of influence on a number of folks,” said Rep. Aaron Aylward, of Harrisburg, who chairs the South Dakota Freedom Caucus, which helped organize thousands of emails to lawmakers on the UCC bill. “We heard from a couple of other folks where they said, ‘Hey, I didn't think about this the first time around, but I'm going to oppose the bill now.’”
In short, the UCC is an ultra-complex set of laws “governing all commercial transactions in the United States,” created by the Uniform Law Commission, an organization made up of practicing lawyers, judges, legislators and legislative staff and law professors.
The updates attempt to bring the code up to speed with how transaction needs are changing with electronic currencies like Bitcoin. But in laying the groundwork for cryptocurrency transactions, they potentially also open the door to “central bank digital currencies,” which Noem and other lawmakers bashed as harmful to privacy rights.
Backers of the change, including Rep. Mike Stevens, of Yankton, were disappointed with the conversation around the bill, which they say is necessary for South Dakota to remain a competitive and open economy.
“I think it's a good bill,” Stevens said. “I think it's a bill that has been misinterpreted. It's a bill that takes into account the changes in technology that are going on.”
Bills vetoed by the governor require a two-thirds majority in each chamber to override and pass into law.
The three other vetoed bills — an increase in allowable THC levels during certain stages of the hemp production process; a change to assault provisions to include school employees; and a carve-out to allow students to “sip and spit” alcohol during certain college courses — did not earn two-thirds majorities on their first trip through the lawmaking process.
Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat from Sioux Falls, told Forum News Service soon after Noem’s veto on the “sip and spit” Senate Bill 108 that he would make no attempt to override, as the bill passed through razor-thin margins in the first place: 18-17 in the Senate and 36-34 in the House.
Hemp proposal failure hurts budding industry, proponents say
The change to allow higher THC levels for in-production hemp also lost considerable support compared to its first time through the process. Currently, the final version of hemp-derived products like CBD can have a maximum of 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis.
But South Dakota law currently allows up to 1% THC in hemp while it’s in process. House Bill 1209 would have raised that cap to 5%.
The attempt to override Noem’s veto on the bill failed 32-35.
Though Noem in her veto message characterized this change as allowing “recreational marijuana,” Rep. Oren Lesmeister, of Parade, argued his bill is about certainty for hemp producers whose product can naturally increase in levels of THC during production.
Katie Sieverding, the executive director of the South Dakota Hemp Association, told Forum News Service that forcing hemp producers to constantly monitor and tweak THC levels can limit the potential end uses of the budding industry in South Dakota agriculture.
“If you dilute too early in the process, you really limit what end products you can make,” she said. “Because a chapstick takes a different base and formulation than a lotion.”
She added that many states simply “look the other way” on in-process hemp and only care about THC within end products, countering Noem’s point within her veto letter that only Colorado and New York have explicit caps as high as 5%.
Educator assault provisions falls short in Senate
The closest call for Noem came on Senate Bill 129, which would have included school employees in provisions that heighten punishments for assaulting a variety of public employees, such as law enforcement and health care personnel.
The governor in her March 9 veto statement criticized the bill as “special treatment” for school officials and worried about a slippery slope of more professions asking for inclusion in this law, which heightens simple assault to a felony.
Sen. David Wheeler, of Huron, during Veto Day debate on the Senate floor, explained his feeling that this was an overreach, especially considering simple assault can sometimes include only a threat of violence.
“More people become felons, more people go into the prison system or have felony records for stuff that has almost always been misdemeanor conduct,” Wheeler warned.
But lobbyists representing school districts and administrators did not agree. Rob Monson, a lobbyist with the School Administrators of South Dakota, argued that teachers and other school personnel are sometimes put in dangerous situations.
“More of these kids who would normally be in some sort of a juvenile detention or something are ending up back in our schools, where they are a potential threat to educators,” Monson told Forum News Service.
Overriding Noem’s veto earned 20 favorable votes in the South Dakota Senate, short of the 24 needed for two-thirds of the 35-member chamber.
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.