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South Dakota Legislature will debate new infrastructure projects, argue critical race theory

The state's citizen Legislature, less than a year before new elections, will also tackle night-vision hunting for coyotes, electric-powered ATVs, and plans to build a new Rapid City workhouse.

FSA South Dakota capitol

PIERRE, S.D. —The South Dakota Legislature has historically marked an annual mid-winter clearinghouse of rousing debates, from new hunting rules to reproductive rights, resolutions on D.C. statehood or constellations to last year's purchase of a new beef barn in Huron.

The 2022 edition promises to be no different. Like last year, the state is flush with federal cash after pandemic-related spending in Washington, D.C. And a fight that was never finished last year after Gov. Kristi Noem's style-and-form veto — over whether the state will allow transgender students to participate in school-sanctioned sports — will also rear its head before mid-March arrives and lawmakers go home.

The next two months could see lawmakers jockey for legislative victories to bring to voters. While many bills are yet to be posted, Forum News Service reviewed the 130-plus bills already posted to the state website for clues as to where this year's train is going.

Federal dollars aiding local prisons, campuses, and parks

Long before President Joe Biden put pen to paper on the bipartisan infrastructure deal, South Dakota accountants had already started counting up investments the state took in from the nearly $2 trillion American Rescue Plan , passed in March, to apply to public infrastructure.

That includes a proposed $5.75 million spend on a new health care services wing for the women's prison in Pierre, as well as $28 million to buy land and build a new community workhouse in Rapid City. The Department of Corrections projects come on the heels of turnover in leadership and grievances of low pay among employees at the state agency.

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On the state's public university campuses, lawmakers will be asked to sign off on spending $5 million for a new agriculture and diesel power laboratory at Mitchell Technical College, invest $30 million into the cyber program at Dakota State University in Madison, and build a $25 million wellness center in Vermillion at the University of South Dakota.

Other state-owned systems hope to see an upgrade with the Department of Health requesting $69 million to build a new state health lab , and Game, Fish and Parks requesting $5.6 million to repair dams and other infrastructure at at Lake Alvin and Newell Lake, which were damaged in flooding in 2018 and 2019

Critical race theory, fairness in girls' sports

Many lawmakers in the conservative wing of the GOP left Pierre in a foul mood at last year's veto day after their hopes to ban transgender children from playing sports were scuttled by a veto from Noem.

But after a pummeling in the national conservative press , Noem may be that wing's biggest champion this year on the issue, as she brings a bill that would allow students to sue a school if a transgender girl bested that student in sports, such as on the basketball court or on the track.

Noem will also jump onto a national trend among Republican-led legislatures to ban any teacher from instructing on material, in K-12 or university, that "compels" a student to feel a range of emotions, including "anguish," on the basis of his or her race. The measure is called "an act to protect students from Critical Race Theory," though the aforementioned phrase shows up nowhere in the bill's text.

Niche issues, cannabis sequel

Finally, Pierre will once again run the gamut of unusual, idiosyncratic and even novel ideas that may lead conversation when March's thaw arrives and the lawmakers declare sine die.

One bill , brought by Aberdeen Sen. Mike Rohl, would allow for any person — not just adult landowners and their guests — to use night-vision goggles while hunting coyotes, jackrabbits, beaver, or other animals.

A measure from Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller in the Black Hills would add electric-powered all-terrain-vehicles to the list of ATVs allowed on public roads, so long as they possess "an equivalent minimum power and torque output."

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And, following last year's implementation of a new medical marijuana program and the Supreme Court's erasure of Amendment A, there will also be 30-plus bills related to medical marijuana and adult use of cannabis, which legislators optimistically believe will be dealt with in the session's opening weeks.

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