Lee Strubinger

Politics and Public Policy Reporter

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.

South Dakota governor talks to legislators on the state budget.
State of South Dakota

Governor Kristi Noem is introducing a bill that bans abortions on fetuses with Down Syndrome. 

Critics of the legislation say it adds another ‘undue burden’ for pregnant women in South Dakota.  

The bill prevents doctors from performing an abortion if a woman wants the procedure because the fetus has Down Syndrome. 


Governor Noem made the announcement during her State of the State address. 

A doctor could be found guilty of a class 6 felony for performing the operation. 

On Tuesday, state lawmakers will hear a bill that prevents people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates. 

The sponsor says it’s meant to clarify an inconsistency in the courts. Opponents say it would codify discrimination against the transgender community in South Dakota. 

Lawmakers in the House Health and Human Services committee will hear the bill at 8 a.m. on Tuesday .


State lawmakers are gearing up for the second week of the 2021 legislative session. Dozens of bills have already been filed, including the first of several anticipated bills related to abortion.  But, it could be a few more working days before the legislature is in full swing. 


Lawmakers can file an unlimited number of bills until the end of next week.  

After that they can only file three more bills. 

At least one bill deals with abortion. South Dakota considers itself on the cutting edge of abortion law in the country. 

SWO DARE Covid-19 Response Team


Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate officials are vaccinating frontline workers and elders with the Moderna vaccine.

The first of 300 vaccine doses will go to healthcare providers, doctors, nurses and inhouse employees who deal with the public every day.

The tribe will then vaccinate law enforcement and first responders. The rest of the doses will go to elders.

Allison Renville is a spokesperson for the tribe’s DARE Covid 19 response team.

Congressional leaders could approve a COVID-19 relief package worth about $900 billion.

The proposal includes provisions developed by centrist House and Senate members, including South Dakota’s Dusty Johnson.

Congressional leaders are optimistic about the relief package following a lengthy negotiation session Tuesday night.

South Dakota’s US Representative Dusty Johnson is one of about a dozen lawmakers who worked on the framework for the bill.

Allie Geier-Barlow, Monument Health

Frontline heath care workers across South Dakota are getting their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The state received 7,800 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.


A Monument Health nurse prepares the first Pfizer vaccines for emergency room physicians who treat COVID-19 patients. Dr. Steve Dick is the first to receive the vaccine in Rapid City.

Dick is the director of Emergency Medicine at Monument Health. He s wanted to get the vaccine in solidarity with the ER team and all they’ve gone through since March.


As state lawmakers prepare for the upcoming session, they’ll handle a record amount of one-time money.

Governor Kristi Noem outlined her vision for spending those dollars during the annual budget address. Most state lawmakers like her proposal.

That record amount of one-time money hovers in at around $224 million. Typically, the legislature has anywhere from $5-$15 million in one-time money to spend.


Governor Kristi Noem is positioning the state for a Joe Biden Administration, acknowledging the democratic presidential candidate won the 2020 election. She’s asking the state legislature to place additional money in reserves and put $50 million into a trust fund for future hardships

The announcement came during the end of the Republican governor’s budget address, when she says the state should safeguard itself in the event of unforeseen economic setbacks…


South Dakota’s congressional delegation has not outright congratulated Joe Biden on winning the presidential election. 

 One political scientist says all three of them have acknowledged his victory in less explicit ways. 

That’s CNN host Chris Cuomo on Monday night, claiming that South Dakota Representative Dusty Johnson backed out of the show after being told he would be asked about the results of the presidential election. 

On November 23rd, Representative Johnson tweeted that he supports President Trump’s right to make his case in the courts.  


Governor Kristi Noem is outlining her plan to spend nearly $224 million dollars in one-time revenue the state has this year. 

She wants the state to use it to pay off decades old debt, to update state infrastructure and help communities as they struggle against the pandemic.   

Much of the one time money is due to an increase in wind-farm development this year, as well as a strong quarter from the Wharf goldmine in Lead. The state also has an additional $104 million dollars from federal coronavirus relief funds, and other federal dollars. 

Office of Governor Kristi Noem

Governor Kristi Noem delivers her annual state budget address on Tuesday.

She will update lawmakers on the state’s financial position and her budget priorities.

Unlike most states across the country, lawmakers will be working with a budget surplus.

As we head into the holiday shopping season, one thing is clear—state sales tax revenue is strong.

Right now the state is sitting in a solid financial position heading into the legislative session.

Melissa Hamersma Sievers / SDPB

Democrats in the South Dakota Legislature have chosen leadership for the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions.

For the second time in a row, Senate Democrats make history with their decision.

Troy Heinert was the first Lakota to hold a leadership position of any party in the South Dakota statehouse. He’s been re-elected to the position. He’s one of three democrats to serve in the South Dakota Senate this year. That’s out of a 35 member Senate. Democrats lost two seats this last election.


State House Republicans are choosing legislative leadership.

Communication between the House and Senate has dissolved in recent years. The new House majority leader says the lines of communication  are open.

Kent Peterson is the majority leader for House Republicans, which hold a super majority in that chamber.

The Republican from Salem was assistant majority leader in 2017 and 2018, but hasn’t held a leadership position since.


South Dakota is one of three states in the upper Midwest without some form of a statewide mask mandate.
Some local governments have already issued their own mask mandates, but that number is growing as COVID spreads through the state.
On Monday night, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued a proclamation that requires anyone over the age of two to wear a mask in public indoor spaces.


 State Senate Republicans are choosing chamber leadership.  One leader says he’s focused on making sure the will of the caucus is communicated clearly to the House, the Executive Branch and the public. 

Lee Schoenbeck is the Republican nominee for Senate President Pro Tempore. If confirmed in January, the Watertown Republican will set committee assignments and choose where bills get heard.


Republicans further solidified their majority in the South Dakota statehouse.

One Republican and one Democrat are offering differing assessments on how state Democrats can pick up the pieces following Tuesday’s general election.

The State legislature hasn’t been this Republican since 1953.

Of the 105 member legislature, Democrats are down to eight representatives from 10, and down to three senators, from five. That means some Senate committees next session will be all Republican.

Marijuana remains illegal in South Dakota and anyone who uses it puts themselves at risk of facing charges.
That’s what one county states attorney says when asked how they’ll handle marijuana charges over the next few months. Voters approved two marijuana measures in Tuesday’s election. Those don’t go into effect until July first of 2021.
Each county may have a different approach to small amount marijuana convictions.

National cannabis advocates say South Dakota’s vote legalizing medical and recreation pot could affect cannabis reform at the federal level.

South Dakota is one of four state legalizing marijuana for adult consumption. New Jersey, Arizona and Montana are also legalizing pot for recreational use.

South Dakota and Mississippi also legalized marijuana for medical use.

New Approach out of Washington DC is a national cannabis organization and pumped in $925 thousand into the South Dakota race.

Both incumbent Congressional candidates in South Dakota will return to Washington DC next year.

Both candidates won by wide margins, according to unofficial election results from the Secretary of State.

It was an unconventional campaign for US Senate this year. Most of the campaign existed virtually and on the airwaves. The two candidates also never debated in person. 

Senator Rounds says that’s in part due to his wife Jean’s cancer diagnosis and his schedule in the Senate.


In the state’s second largest county absentee voting has been extremely heavy this year. Pennington County received more than 37,000 absentee ballots, nearly double that from 2016.

Given that influx an absentee ballot board has been at work since 7 am, opening ballots and putting an official stamp on them and getting them ready to run through the tabulators.

The ballots won’t get tallied until after the polls close, which is 7 pm local time.

Peggy Seljeskog is an absentee ballot supervisor. She’s been working as an election official for 25 years.


Over 215,000 absentee ballots are filed with county auditors across South Dakota.

That’s nearly 95 percent of absentee ballots requested. And teams assembled by county auditors are sorting those ballots.

In the state’s second largest county  absentee voting has been extremely heavy this year. Pennington County received more than 37,000 absentee ballots, nearly double that from 2016.

Given that influx an absentee ballot board has been at work since 7 am, opening ballots and putting an official stamp on them and getting them ready to run through the tabulators.

Department of Public Safety

Officials say Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg was distracted when he struck and killed a Highmore resident on the night of September 12th.

They declined to say how he was distracted, but are releasing the crash report and a photo of Ravnsborg’s car.

The report says Ravsnborg was travelling westbound and entered the north shoulder where he struck and killed Joseph Boever, who was walking on the north shoulder.

If South Dakota voters approve either ballot questions that greenlight some form of marijuana, it could complicate firearm transactions, legally.

When a gun is purchased from a licensed dealer, a form from the federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms asks if the purchaser is an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or other controlled substance. It warns the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under federal law regardless of state law.

Kealey Bultena / SDPB

South Dakota’s Secretary of State says nine out of ten of absentee ballots requested have reached county auditors ahead of Tuesday’s general election.  
South Dakotans are on track to file nearly double the amount of absentee ballots filed in the 2016 presidential election. 
Of the 204,535 absentee ballots requested, 184,379 have been returned.
Secretary Steve Barnett says there’s a good chance that number keeps climbing into the weekend and could reach 200,000.

Katrina Raysby

South Dakota remains a COVID hot spot, and has been for weeks.  

Governor Kristi Noem’s policy response to the pandemic has remained largely the same, even as the number of positive COVID 19 cases has set new daily records.  

Kathy James’ family has been careful, they’ve taken precautions. Despite that, her son-in-law, Doug  Raysby, died of COVID-19.

“Doug is… Doug was… Doug was everything that Trina and I are not,” James said. “He’s quiet and passive and easy going. Doesn’t ruffle feathers.”

A new poll conducted by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and KELO TV shows slim support for a constitutional amendment legalizing pot use for adults.

South Dakota voters overwhelmingly support legalizing medical marijuana.

It’s the first independent poll done on the ballot questions.

Campaign filings for opposing groups on the question of legalizing recreational and medical marijuana  show similar approaches.  
One just has a lot more cash.
Both vote yes and vote no campaigns on Constitutional Amendment A rely heavily on organizational dollars for support.
That amendment would legalize recreational pot use for adults 21 and over.

Governor's Office

A poll out of South Dakota State University finds state Republicans are split on their approval of how President Donald Trump and Governor Kristi Noem are handling the coronavirus pandemic.
The two professors behind the survey sent email invites to 10,000 registered South Dakota voters.

Governor Kristi Noem has tripled her campaign war chest in the last five months.

According to the latest campaign finance filings with the Secretary of State, the Kristi For Governor campaign now has nearly $811,000 on hand.

In May she had about $245,000.

Steve Munsen

The South Dakota Speaker of the House says it’s been three days since he’s had a fever after contracting the coronavirus.

Republican Steve Haugaard says he’s feeling much better.

It was two weeks of non-stop fever. Speaker Haugaard says he tried to manage it with Tylenol and Ibuprophen. But his fever persisted.

“Temperatures seemed to hover anywhere from 100 to 105," Haugaard says.

Haugaard from Sioux Falls says he never lost his sense of taste or smell.