The 2018 South Dakota Legislative Session was…different.

That’s a consensus that many dedicated observers of the South Dakota Legislature have reached and it’s something I noticed during my two and a half months at our state capitol in Pierre. This year was different in part because of the sheer number of individual pieces of legislation filed and debated – a whopping 670 bills and resolutions. Of those, the ACLU of South Dakota focused on about 55, which is far more than we’ve been able to tackle in years past.

Now that it’s all behind me it’s time to settle in and recap the most important civil rights and civil liberties battles we fought on behalf of all South Dakotans. Here are the highs and lows of 2018:

Highs

  • Despite the filing of many anti-immigrant and anti-refugee bills and resolutions, we focused heavily on two of these bills: one that would’ve banned undocumented students from enrolling in South Dakota public universities and another modeled after President Trump’s Muslim Ban that would’ve prohibited immigrants and refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries from living in South Dakota. After grueling and sometimes hard to watch testimony, both of these bills died in their first committee hearings. (SB 103, SB 200).
  • Building on the successes of years past we oversaw the defeat of three bills that singled out transgender South Dakotans – and especially those who are students – for discrimination and unfair treatment. All three of these bills died in their first committee hearings. (SB 160, SB 202, HB 1296).

Lows

  • We worked hard to get two proactive and much-needed criminal justice bills passed. Unfortunately, neither survived its journey through the legislature in 2018. We look forward to the future and hope we see these bills again.
    • The first bill would have reclassified ingestion of a controlled substance (meaning having drugs in your system, proven through a blood or urine sample) from a felony to a misdemeanor. This bill would’ve saved the state $50 million over 10 years and more importantly would have ended the practice of sending people who use drugs to prison for years. (SB 95).
    • The second bill would have ended the use of the death penalty for those who were severely mentally ill at the time of the crime. This bill would’ve brought South Dakota into the modern era, made our criminal justice system more compassionate, and reflected society’s current understanding of the nature of severe mental illness. This bill made it through the House and died in the Senate after hard work on the part of many to get it passed. (HB 1123).
  • Continuing a years-long trend of attacking reproductive rights, the South Dakota Legislature passed SB 110, a bill that would force women seeking an abortion to go to non-medical pregnancy help centers for “counseling” before they are allowed to undergo the procedure at the clinic of their choice. It amends a South Dakota law passed in 2011 that is currently tied up in federal court and attempts to meddle in this ongoing litigation. Despite opposition from physicians, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU of South Dakota, medical students, and more, the legislature passed this bill.

Though session is over, our work to defend the civil rights and civil liberties of all South Dakotans continues throughout the year. Want to grab a post-session beer with the ACLU staff? Join us for Pints & Politics on April 26 at Prairie Berry East Bank in downtown Sioux Falls. It's a great opportunity to socialize and network with likeminded ACLU supporters, meet the staff of the ACLU of South Dakota, and learn how our mission is changing out state.

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