Week 6 of the 2019 Legislative Session has come and gone, with some interesting bills again commanding our attention, discussion, and debate.
It seems like every session some group comes in for intense scrutiny, even attack. Last year it was unions, with bills to ban collective bargaining by local school administrators, forbid school districts from facilitating any type of union-related activity, prohibit collective bargaining for employees of Board of Regents institutions, and (to make sure no one missed the message) a resolution “endorsing the right to work provisions in the South Dakota Constitution and in the Labor Management Relations Act that prohibit forced union membership.” The resolution passed; all other bills failed.
This year's attacks are on public education.
HB 1108, which states that "no instruction in gender dysphoria may be provided to any student in kindergarten through grade seven in any public school in the state" passed the House. I haven't seen any evidence that this is happening in the state and this bill may prohibit teachers even answering a student's question. We were told that "instruction" doesn't include things like counseling, but teachers are sure to be very wary of even broaching the subject. I voted against the bill in the Education Committee and on the House floor. It passed 39 – 30. Note that it only applies to public schools.
HB 1066 would "require students to pass a citizenship test before graduating from high school." This is another state mandate infringing on local school boards' discretion. The test would consist of 10 questions taken from the 100 questions used to test persons when they become naturalized U. S. citizens. A student "may repeat the test as often as necessary to demonstrate proficiency," and as I read the bill the test could include the same 10 questions for all students. Not very challenging if you ask me. Nonetheless, the bill passed 38 – 31. It includes public and private schools but exempts home school students.
Federal law currently requires school districts to inform parents at least annually of planned surveys and "nonemergency, invasive physical examination or screening" and give parents the opportunity to opt out. HB 1116 would instead require that "parental consent shall be obtained separately and distinctly for each examination or screening conducted." The onerous record-keeping burdens are obvious. The bill died in the Education Committee but was "smoked out" (a procedure for bringing a bill back to life), debated at length on the House floor, died again on a tie vote, brought back again by a motion to reconsider, then finally met its final demise 32 – 37. (Dealing with hundreds of bills just once isn't enough; we have to kill some three times.) This would have been another burden placed only on public school districts.
HB 1113 would forbid every "public elementary and secondary school teacher" from endorsing, supporting, or opposing an extensive list of activities. The list is so restrictive as to rule out any teacher discussing any current topic for fear of losing their job. This bill's 17 sponsors don't believe that the teachers' Code of Professional Ethics that has been in place for many years is enough. Thankfully, that example of overreach died (3 – 10) in the Education Committee.
These bills demonstrate suspicion that public school boards, administrators, and teachers have such nefarious intent that they must be restricted at every turn. I believe our school boards are competent, administrators and teachers are able professionals, and they all are committed to our students' best interests. The public schools prepared our four children very well and they have become fine, capable adults. I trust our school boards and school personnel to continue to do that. I also favor local control.
The House also passed (48 – 41) House Concurrent Resolution 1006, "instructing South Dakota's congressional representatives to support an effort in Congress to terminate the U.S. Department of Education." It's not clear whether the supporters also want to "terminate" the millions of grant dollars the federal government sends us every year.
High school students, here’s your chance to come to the State Capitol, write legislation, meet in committees where you hear public testimony from legislators and volunteers, then take part in a mock legislative session in the Capitol. YELL (Young Elected Legislative Leaders) weekend is April 5 - 6. There is no cost for travel, lodging, or food, and you get to meet students from across the state. More information at https://sddp.org/event/yell-2019/.
As always, you can contact me at email@example.com, Ray.Ring@sdlegislature.gov, or 605-675-9379 (my cell). I can't respond to everyone, but please let me know if you are from District 17 (Clay and Turner counties).
Please plan to attend the Cracker Barrel at Vermillion City Hall on Saturday, March 2, 9 to 11 a.m. I would also like to come to a Cracker Barrel in Turner County.