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SB 69 lowers Democratic membership on reconciliation committee

Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, Rep. Peri Pourier, and Sen. Reynold Nesiba
Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, Rep. Peri Pourier, and Sen. Reynold Nesiba

The South Dakota law that established the State-Tribal Relations Committee has been changed to reduce the mandatory number of Democrats serving on it. The House of Representatives voted to pass Senate Bill 69 on Wednesday, March 1) Its prime sponsor says the new makeup better reflects the will of South Dakota voters.

The State-Tribal Relations Committee by law consists of 10 legislators, with a minimum of four members from the minority party. SB 69 drops that minimum number to two.

Republicans currently hold 90 percent of the seats in the South Dakota legislature.

Sen. Lee Schoenbeck introduced the bill at the Senate State Affairs hearing on Jan. 20. He said the law no longer reflects the reality of the political situation.

“When they originally passed this, it probably didn’t seem so strange, because there used to be a lot of Democrats in the legislature,” he said.

The State/Tribal Relations committee arose from reconciliation efforts started by Gov. George Mickelson, who died in office in 1993.

At the Senate State Affairs hearing, Sen. Reynold Nesiba challenged Schoenbeck’s commitment to Mickelson’s goal.

NESIBA: “Did you consult with any tribes or tribal members in the process of putting forward this change?”

SCHOENBECK: “Absolutely not, because of course it would make no sense, because they don’t… they aren’t involved in the decision of putting… making committee appointments.”

Schoenbeck said tribes benefit from having legislators on the committee who are not Native.

“It doesn’t make much sense to have the tribes come to the committee and tell tribal members, ‘Hey, here’s what’s going on in tribal country.’ It makes a lot more sense to have the tribes come and talk to people that don’t live in tribal country,” he said.

SB 69 passed through that committee and went on to clear both chambers.

At its last legislative appearance in the House, Rep. Peri Pourier proposed an amendment to require the appointment of legislators who represent districts containing tribal lands.

“This isn’t about party,” she said. “This is about the voice of those citizens that are in the tribal nations who elect their leaders.”

That amendment failed, and the House approved the bill by a vote of 57-11.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She Retired from this position in March 2023.