Another cold week has come and gone in Pierre. There is no lack of important bills to debate. In the House Education Committee we saw an appropriation to create a new literacy education program based on the Science of Reading. This is essentially the old phonics-based reading system that I learned as a child. It is good to see the department returning to an old tried and true method of teaching reading. Representative Deutsch brought a bill to create a pilot program to offer new teachers bonuses if they teach in South Dakota for 5 years. I supported the bill as I think it is worth trying a new way to recruit and retain teachers. The number of current teacher vacancies is a pressing issue we face. The bill ultimately died in committee. Another bill that failed was an attempt to change the makeup of the Board of Education Standards. While I understand the desire to have more teachers involved in the process, the bill seemed like a knee jerk reaction to the recent revision of the Social Studies Standards. It is important to have parents and other community members involved in setting standards for public education and we shouldn't make decisions while emotions are high. This may be an area to address next year.
In the Judiciary Committee there were a plethora of bills that made small changes to certain crimes. I understand when some clarification is needed as to the charging of a specific crime, but I also want to be cautious about creating new felonies. Becoming a felon changes a person's life forever and I want to make sure that we carefully weigh whether the action indeed rises to that level of punishment. On the other hand, we need to balance protecting the public and our law enforcement personnel. So for some of these clarifying bills I voted yes and some of them I voted no. The crimes we addressed included DUIs, eluding the police, disarming an officer, and "sliming" a UJS employee.
The bill that we had the most substantial debate on was HB1076 to add antisemitism to the list of unfair or discriminatory practices. This is a bill that comes from Governor Noem and is carried by my good friend Representative Deutsch. While on the surface the bill seems like a good idea, I believe it is dangerous to begin adding specific carveouts for different groups. Our anti-discrimination statutes already cover "race, color, creed, religion, sex, ancestry, disability, or national origin." While I understand that being Jewish can cover many different areas (religious, cultural, ethnic background), there isn't any definition of Jewish that is not already covered by the current list. There is a reason that our laws focus on categories such as "religion" rather than listing out Catholics, Muslims, Jews, etc. If we start listing specific groups we will certainly leave someone out. The broad categories provide equal protection to all. Another issue with the bill is that it includes "rhetorical acts." So we are not just talking about actual discriminatory physical actions that are taken against a person but also words that are spoken. The Freedom of Speech is vital to maintaining a free society and we must not go down the road of criminalizing speech. Contrary to some popular opinions, speech is not violence. If we allow speech to be criminalized it is only a matter of time until a new group determines that our own speech is worthy of punishment. For those reasons I had to vote against the bill.
On the floor we continue to see bills to join interstate compacts for varying professions. I will go into this issue in a future post. Thanks for reading!