• February/March 2021

A day in the life, during session

By Debra Owen
Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce

By the time you read this column, I will have been in Pierre for more than four weeks. It's true that most of the lobbyists come home on the weekends, but for the first three months of the year, we reside in Pierre on weekdays. Those who seek to engage in the making of law are drawn to the work of making law. It is as fundamental as our love for our state and country. It is the orderly discussion and conclusion of making the laws that govern our state.

Diplomacy is really a verb.

Do the debates get heated? You bet. Heck, there have been a couple of times when a colleague has suggested I take a walk after losing a bill in committee. They were right. I took the walk. Diplomacy is really a verb. It is something we South Dakotans practice both in the halls and in our hometowns. We understand the difference between talking with someone rather than talking at them. Our state and communities are better for our respectful communication with each other. This is how we get things done in greater Sioux Falls and in Pierre.

As I write this, I can hear long-time Augustana professor Dr. Peter Schotten in my mind, wax on about E Pluribus Unum, which means "out from many, one." A Latin phrase our forefathers invoked. The phrase offered a strong statement of the American determination to form a single nation from a collection of states. Enacting legislation engages many different voices to enact one law.

The 96th legislative session brings together the voices of the 70 representatives and 30 senators. Twenty of the 105 legislators are new to the process. We also have the largest contingency of women legislators to date. A key element to enacting good laws, is having a diverse and educated group of legislators. Another very important element is to have industry experts who communicate the impact — bad or good — on a specific trade or industry. The public is also an important component of enacting good laws. Most importantly, the Governor and her cabinet also lobby and advocate on legislation. In South Dakota we are fortunate to have such outstanding public servants who work with business and industry to keep our economy strong.

The Chamber seeks to communicate and work with the entities involved with each bill. Bills that relate to workforce education, economic development, business climate, agribusiness are just of a few of the areas in which we represent our members in Pierre.

The day-to-day flow of the legislature is driven by the calendar. During the first three weeks all new bills (roughly 500) must be submitted by legislators to the Legislative Research Council. The crush of reading and understanding each bill's impact on our members is a part of every session. Bill hearings generally begin on week two. Hearings generally happen in two blocks each morning starting at 7:30. Committee agendas can occasionally vary from the version posted the previous night. If a lobbyist happens to have a bill in two committees at the same time, it's important to have connections in the committee who can let you know your bill was moved up, down or pushed to another day. These announcements usually happen at the start of the committee but not always.

The legislative calendar requires all bills to be passed through the Chamber they originated from by the end of week five or they are dead. The day that bills must pass out of their Chamber of origin is called cross-over day. This is because the bills must cross-over the rotunda of the Capitol and begin the process all over in the other Chamber. Many of you can recall the School House Rock video "I'm just a bill." If you know what I'm referring to, you'll probably have that song in your head for the rest of the day. You're welcome.

Ironically, in Pierre no bill is really dead even after cross-over day. It's only "mostly dead." At any time during the remaining four weeks, bills can be resurrected and be back in play. There are procedural moves to keep a bill alive, but it is always best to get your bill out of committee with a strong vote of approval at the first hearing.

We have a saying in Pierre, if you aren't at the table, you may be on the menu. It's true. Legislation can move quickly in the halls of the Capitol. Procedural moves in a committee or on the floor of the Senate happen quickly. This is why your Chamber has both a full-time lobbyist and a contract lobbyist in Pierre daily to ensure we are keeping your interests in front of the 105.

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