South Dakota lawmakers will take on a wide range of issuesby Cara Hetland, Minnesota Public Radio
Just like in Washington DC and St. Paul, South Dakotans are expecting a shift when the 2007 Legislature begins today in Pierre.
Republicans have a solid majority in both chambers, but legislators who are considered more moderate take over many key leadership positions and are expected to shift the focus of legislative debate.
Sioux Falls, S.D. — Scott Heidepriem says he heard a clear message from voters last November. The Democratic state senator-elect from Sioux Falls says South Dakotans are fatigued over lawmakers spending time on social issues like abortion and gay marriage.
Voters adopted a constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman. And voters overturned a law passed last year that would have banned nearly all abortions in the state. Heidepriem says it's unlikely abortion will be a focus this year.
"It'll never go away, it'll be back," says Heidepriem. "But I think this session I'm excited that we're going to emphasize meat and potato issues. Things like education and pre-kindergarten education."
Heidepriem will serve as the democratic minority leader in the senate. He'll introduce a pre-school pilot program that offers early childhood education state wide.
One social issue will be on the front burner -- capital punishment. Governor Mike Rounds delayed the execution of Elijah Page last August because of problems with the existing death-penalty law. Penitentiary officials planned on using three drugs in the lethal injection. State law specifically allows only two drugs.
State Rep. Phyllis Heineman (R-Sioux Falls) expects a hearty debate over whether the state should even have the death penalty.
"I'm not sure what the final resolution is going to be. I know the people of South Dakota have spoken that they do favor the death penalty. I favor it in the case where we simply cannot protect society from someone. If we can, then perhaps let's keep that person in jail but away from public view," says Heineman.
The execution of Elijah Page has been rescheduled for the second week of July.
Discussion over ethical conduct could interfere with some work. A select senate committee will hold hearings next week on allegations that a state senator groped a teenage page. Attorney General Larry Long is expected to be called as a witness. Long conducted his own investigation but has not released his findings.
Lawmakers meet in session for 40 days.
- Morning Edition, 01/09/2007, 7:55 a.m.