2021 S.D. Legislature: Redistricting at top of legislators’ agenda topics

By: 
Steve Haugaard, Speaker of the House

This week begins a variety of meetings of the Interim Committees and summer studies. At this time, the most important is Redistricting. Those discussions continue to narrow the options for a final proposed district map that will be voted on at the Special Session. Ultimately, either the Legislature agrees upon a final map or the Supreme Court will be tasked with completing that map.  

Presently, there is a significant divide over two of the plans. One is being proposed by the Senate President Pro Tem that appears to have been drawn in an effort to pit certain current legislators against one another in the next election. That map also has made dramatic shifts in some rural districts, which is raising concerns about geographic consistency and shared interests within those districts. Based on the public discussions I have observed I am optimistic that there is another and less disruptive map rising to the top and will hopefully find broad acceptance so we can be set for another 10 years.

Other committee meetings include long-range planning for the delivery of mental health services and another committee continues to meet in regard to marijuana. The mental health studies are a culmination of years of meetings, which are helping to narrow the focus for the development of best practices, delivery of services, and costs. Marijuana is still a moving target and the proposals coming from those committees will be the subject of legislation as well as many hours of meetings involving the actual standing committees of both legislative chambers.

This week also begins a deeper dive into clarifying exactly what occurred in regard to the $200,000 payoff of a former Department of Labor employee. Sherry Bren was discharged sometime after a meeting, which included the attendance of Kristi Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters. That meeting apparently involved a discussion concerning the requirements of appraisers who want to be licensed by the State of South Dakota.  

The reason this matter became an issue is due to the fact that the application for an Appraiser’s license filed by Kassidy Peters had been denied. The Government Operations and Audit Committee has requested that the Secretary of Labor, Marcia Hultman, and Sherry Bren attend the meeting to answer questions about what took place in that meeting and why the Governor’s daughter was present in the meeting.

The Committee has also requested that Sandra Gresh, president of the Professional Appraisers Association of South Dakota, attend to explain her association’s concerns about the changes to the process. And, the Committee has also asked Craig Ambach to attend. He is the Director of the Office of Risk Management, the state office that participated in paying Sherry Bren $200,000 to drop her employment claim against the state.

In 2019 the state Legislature passed a law that requires better transparency, but we will see how that works with this particular situation. That law is now codified at:

SDCL 1-27-1.23. Settlement agreements to be public records--Redaction of victim information--Temporary confidentiality for ongoing litigation.

An agency of the state or a political subdivision may not enter into a settlement agreement with a party to any civil action or proceeding involving a claim for monetary damages or equitable relief in which the settlement agreement requires nondisclosure or confidentiality of the terms of the settlement. A settlement agreement under this section is a public record as defined under § 1-27-1.1. For good cause shown, the court may order the redaction of the name of any victim of crime within the settlement agreement under this section. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an agency of the state or a political subdivision may temporarily maintain the confidentiality of the settlement agreement related to ongoing litigation. The settlement agreement shall become a public record as defined under § 1-27-1.1 upon the final disposition and the exhaustion of any appeal from the related litigation.

Hopefully, this law will aid the Government Operations and Audit Committee in getting to the bottom of that settlement.

As always, feel free to contact me (steven.haugaard@sdlegislature.gov  with questions or comments. You can also go to www.sdlegislature.gov to listen in on the meetings or to see what else is happening in state government.

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