Government officials won’t have to generate reports on the specific uses of state aircraft after Senate Bill 153 died in committee Wednesday morning.
SB153 would have required the state Department of Transportation to submit a quarterly report of the state aircraft’s uses. The bill targeted the only plane in the state fleet that is under the DOT’s jurisdiction, the one used by Gov. Kristi Noem and other state officials.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said the bill was necessary because there is no reporting on the aircraft.
“If you go to the appropriations committee and you look at their book, there is absolutely no way to discern where and when that plane was used, or for what purpose,” Heinert said.
Bill Nevin, legal counsel for the Department of Transportation, testified in opposition to the bill, saying that all the information the bill seeks to make available already is, by request. Requiring the DOT to create a log is tedious and would take substantial time and resources to compile.
The bill hit the committee as questions were raised over Noem’s use of the state plane in a report published Monday by online news source Raw Story. The reporter used social media posts, flight logs and media accounts to piece together Noem’s travel in 2019, and asserted that thousands of dollars were spent on political travel. According to state law, the plane cannot be used for personal or political reasons.
Noem spokesman Ian Fury told Raw Story the governor followed the law on the use of the plane and that part of her job is to be “South Dakota’s top ambassador to the rest of the nation.”
Heinert said the premise of the bill is “extremely simple,” and cited the Raw Story article in trying to persuade other lawmakers.
“If an investigative reporter has to jump through all of those hoops, what do you suppose the people of South Dakota do? They want to see where the state plane went. This is not political in any way, we just want to make sure they’re following the law. And right now we have no way to tell, absolutely no way,” Heinert said.
Nevin countered that the flight schedules, people on the flight and the agency they represent are recorded by the Bureau of Administration, and that the DOT would also need to acquire that information from the BOA to put together a report. Neither the BOA nor DOT records the purpose of flights.
Heinert said that the tedious process is precisely why the bill is needed, and that the opposition is merely to creating more work for the DOT.
“Obviously, that’s what this bill is requiring, because it’s not happening now. So just because it’s a little more work is not a good reason to not pass SB 153,” Heinert said. “The people of South Dakota deserve to know where this plane is going, who’s on it and for what purpose. They own the plane.”
Heinert’s motion to pass the bill didn’t get a second. Sen. Michael Rohl, R-Aberdeen, moved to defer it to the 41st day, seconded by Sen. Jim Bolin, R-Canton.
Before the motion passed, Heinert urged the committee to resist the motion, saying the Legislature owes it to the taxpayers to tell them how their money is spent.
Sen. Michael Diedrich, R-Rapid City, said he had a hard time believing that information was not already available because the DOT testimony had said that it was.
“This started out as, in my view, a political effort more than an accountability effort. That information is out there,” Diedrich said.