Expanding high speed Internet access, requiring high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship exam, and creating a reporter shield law were just some of the ideas put forth by Governor Kristi Noem in her first State of the State address.
The speech was delivered January 8, in front of a joint session of the South Dakota Legislature. Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden introduced Noem with, “ … she seeks to preserve what works in our state.” Noem then presented ideas to add to what works for S.D., but clearly stating, “We won’t spend money we don’t yet have. We won’t needlessly grow the government. We won’t raise taxes.”
High speed Internet
Noem said she wants high speed, broadband internet access across the state. “Our kids’ world will be one in which both access and ease in a digital, connected world is a basic requirement for making a living, for being engaged in society, and keeping their households running and their kids educated.” She said that it can cost $15,000 per mile or more to lay fiber optic line for internet access. Noem said she wants to bring together industry leaders, focus state government’s commitment, and commit state resources to closing the broadband gap.
Noem said she will advance hunting in the state. “To us, hunting is a way of life, and an economic engine for our state.” Pheasant-hunters spend almost a quarter of a billion dollars in South Dakota and outdoor activities support more than 18,000 full and part-time in-state jobs. Noem’s Second Century Initiative will increase resources for habitat management. Game, Fish and Parks will find voluntary funding solutions, such as an expanded Hunt for Habitat program in which a limited number of hunting tags would be reserved at premium pricing. The Division of Motor Vehicles and GF&P will develop a specialty pheasant license plate program in which all proceeds will to habitat management. Noem also promised, “We’re going to get aggressive on predator control with a bounty program.” The state will expand the capabilities of the website habitat.sd.gov so citizens can contribute to the policymaking process; and if someone’s ideas are used Noem wants to waive that person’s hunting license fees for that year. “Consider me our Sportsman in Chief for South Dakota pheasant hunting,” Noem said.
Business - S.D.’s Next Big Thing
Noem wants to give businesses room to grow. She said that Governor Janklow targeted the credit card industry for S.D. Today, the state is home to $3.1 trillion in bank assets – more than any other state, and the trust industry oversees billions more. “I am charging my Office of Economic Development with not only identifying our next generation of targeted industries, but also marketing to attract the most innovative companies in those sectors. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) will roll out a more user-friendly website that is more responsive to S.D. businesses and those interested in moving here,” Noem said.
Noem has challenged the GOED to continue finding more value-added processing opportunities. She wants to further grow the state’s capacity in human health research. She wants the state to become a leader in cybersecurity. The U.S. Air Force’s rollout of the next-generation B-21 Raider bomber will also bring with it a surge of activity.
Workforce shortages and schooling
Noem announced that the state Housing Development Authority will work on fixing the housing shortage problem. New modular multi-housing units, called DakotaPlex (similar to the Governor’s House program), will be built at the state prison facility in Springfield. Communities of less than 5,000 people can buy these units and offer them for rent at affordable levels.
Noem also said the Department of Labor and Regulation and professional organizations and licensure boards will review licensing requirements. They will eliminate unnecessary licenses, streamline the process, and fast-track licenses for apprentices, in-state graduates, veterans, and military personnel and their families.
Noem said that in South Dakota we have 15,870 job openings and 13,600 people actively looking for work. Those unemployed workers do not have the skills necessary to fill the open jobs. Noem praised tech schools and universities, then said that the priorities of employers and educators sometimes do not fully align. Noem plans to bring together employers, kindergarten through 12th grade educators, the Board of Regents, and the technical Institutes, and to provide more career counseling and information for students. “We need more Career Technical Education and skills training in high school, more apprenticeship programs,” Noem said. She said she wants more internships and experience-based classes. “Work experience teaches young people the soft skills they need - to show up on time, dress professionally, to interact with customers,” Noem said.
Noem praised schools, especially those that involve families. “I will be bringing legislation to remove unnecessary testing requirements that state law currently imposes on home school families. I will also be supporting legislation to make home school students eligible, on an equal basis, for the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship,” Noem said.
She added that civics need to reemerge. “I will be bringing legislation to require that every high school graduate be able to pass the United States citizenship exam,” Noem said. To this, Noem received a standing ovation from the audience.
Noem said that the methamphetamine epidemic is filling S.D. jails and prisons, clogging the court systems, and stretching our drug treatment capacity. The vast majority of meth is coming from Mexico, and Noem blamed our nation’s failure to adequately secure our southern border.
Noem said that, in 2018 before December, 3,366 meth arrests were made and nearly 40,000 grams were seized. She detailed a three-pronged approach to deal with meth - education, enforcement, and treatment.
In her press conference after the State to the State address, Noem admitted that the elimination of presumptive probation for Class 5 and Class 6 felonies is being talked about across the state. “I know there will be a debate about that,” Noem said.
Noem praised foster care, and will strive to increase it.
The growth in the agriculture economy will include transferring agriculture development representatives from the Department of Agriculture to the GOED, because agriculture development is economic development.
Noem administration will strive to increase the use of ethanol.
By using technology, Noem said government transparency is “from the boardroom to your living room.” She added, “I want a commonsense Reporter Shield law - protecting the constitutional right to a free and independent press - on my desk before the end of session.”
Noem praised law enforcement and the military is covering many issues. One upcoming issue is the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through S.D. “I want the construction of this pipeline to be safe, clean and efficient. We will make sure that people, water and the environment are protected,” Noem said. Her administration will work with other agencies to make this as uneventful as possible.
During the press conference after the State of the State address, Noem clarified that it is hard to get all of her priorities into one speech. There are more things that she will focus on in the next four years.