Sen. Art Rusch

Now that the elections are over, the South Dakota legislature is beginning the process of organizing for the 2021 legislative session which will begin on Jan. 12, 2021.

The Senate consists of 35 Senators, one from each Legislative District. As a result of the recent election, the Republicans gained two seats in the Senate. One of them was in District 1, which is Marshall, Roberts and Day counties in the far northeast corner of South Dakota. In District 1, Michael Rohl defeated the incumbent Democrat, Susan Wismer. The other place where there was a party change was in District 18 which is Yankton County. In Yankton, incumbent Craig Kennedy did not run for re-election and he was replaced by Republican Jean Hunhoff, who had previous represented District 18 in the House.

The 35 Senators consist of 26 men and nine women. Twenty-one of the Senators were in the Senate last session and 14 are new. Of the 14 new Senators, eight came from the House and six are completely new to the legislature. Of the new Senators, one of them was appointed by the governor to fill a vacant seat after the 2020 session so he is not actually new, but he didn't serve during the 2020 session.

The Senate Republicans met in Pierre last Friday evening and selected our leadership for the 2021 and 2022 sessions. The Majority Leader will be Gary Cammack, who is a rancher and business owner from Union Center and the Assistant Majority Leader will be Mike Diedrich, who is an attorney from Rapid City. The Republicans also selected four whips who are responsible for maintaining communications between the legislative leadership and the legislators. They are Jim Bolin, a retired teacher from Canton, Casey Crabtree, who works in economic development from Madison, Helene Duhamel, who works for the sheriff's office in Pennington County and Kyle Schoenfish, who is a CPA from Scotland. The senate president pro tem, who presides over the Senate when the lt. governor is absent, will be elected by the entire Senate when it convenes in January. However, the Republicans selected Lee Schoenbeck, an attorney from Watertown, as the Republican nominee for that position.

During the legislative session, most of the work is done by the various standing committees. The committees listen to testimony and arguments by interested parties on bills which have been introduced and make recommendations to the legislative body. When bills are introduced they are usually assigned to be heard by the standing committee which deals with that subject matter. The standing committees are 1) Agriculture and Natural Resources, 2) Appropriations, 3) Commerce and Energy, 4) Education, 5) Government Operations and Audit, 6) Health and Human Services and 7) Judiciary. During the last four years I have served as the vice-chairman of the Judiciary Committee and I have also served on the Health and Human Services and Government Operations and Audit Committees. The legislators won't find out their new committee assignments until January.

One of the changes I have noticed in the Senate is the number of lawyers who are senators. When I first went into the Senate, I was the only lawyer there and the prior term there had been no lawyers. In the upcoming term there will be five lawyers including Tim Johns from Lead who is also a retired Circuit Judge. I hope that this will make it easier to resolve some the legal questions which arise in just about every kind of proposed legislation


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