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Lawmakers eye summer study on childcare

Four lawmakers sit at a desk in front of a photo background. The United States and South Dakota flags sit at either side of them.
Republican leadership discusses the potential for childcare summer study during a press conference.

Childcare availability and affordability are longstandingissuesin South Dakota, but legislative fixes have been few and far between this session.

In separate press conferences Thursday, legislative leaders from both political parties expressed interest in a summer study on the issue.

A billto adjust staff-child ratios for providers was tabled at the request of prime sponsor Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids. Hansen told a House committee Tuesday the executive branch is already researching the ratio, which is a rule that can be changed by the governor.

Sen. Casey Crabtree, R-Madison, said the legislature has otherwise been hesitant to address the issue because it lacks a comprehensive “model” that aligns with the state's fiscally conservative tradition.

“We don’t have ample daycare in any place,” he said. “We also don’t understand what our role, as a legislature, should be in making that happen.”

Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, R-Sioux Falls, said a study would incorporate perspectives from a “big group” of businesses and daycare providers, as well as “quality measures” for childcare services.

“We need to consider all of those things together,” she said.

Democratic Senator Reynolds Nesiba of Sioux Falls said childcare is his “number one priority for a summer study.” He claims an in-depth look at the issue would convince lawmakers of the need for government participation.

“If you want high quality, affordable, childcare that pays a living wage, the state has to be a partner in it,” said Nesiba, who is Senate minority leader. “I’m hoping that a summer study helps us reach that conclusion.”

House minority leader Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, said support for a stronger social safety net could be growing. He cited Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposed state family leave policy as one example of that shift.

“A few years back you wouldn’t have that with this administration, so maybe there is a change happening. We hope so,” he said.

Crabtree identified long-term care and county finances as two other potential issues for summer studies.

Interim committees’ topics and membership are decided by the legislature’s Executive Board.

Slater Dixon is a junior at Augustana University studying Government and Data Science. He was born in Sioux Falls and is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.
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