Lawmakers bemoan absence of Noem representative at meeting

December 18, 2019 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota legislative committee set aside plans Wednesday to discuss a new proposal to punish so-called “riot boosting” after a representative for Gov. Kristi Noem didn’t attend the meeting.

The Republican governor has proposed new laws that would make it illegal to “urge” or “incite” violent protests ahead of expected opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline construction. Riot-boosting laws have been a sore spot between the governor and the tribes since March, when the Legislature passed bills offered by Noem shortly before the end of the session. Parts of that law were nullified in a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union in October.

The governor’s recently proposed legislation would clarify the definition of “incitement to riot” to meet constitutional protections of free speech, according to a letter she sent lawmakers last week. The proposed legislation would define riot boosting as actions like “inciting, directing, or threatening” violence by three or more people, and exempts oral and written advocacy that does not urge violence.

Noem’s spokeswoman Kristin Wileman said the governor’s proposal is designed “to protect people, property, and the environment.”

The State-Tribal Relations Committee invited Tribal Relations Secretary Dave Flute to answer questions on Wednesday about the proposal, but he said he had prior commitments and could not attend. Some lawmakers and tribal leaders were rankled by his absence.

Wileman said in an email that Flute “cannot be two places at once.” She said the governor’s staff was monitoring the committee meeting and had asked for input on the legislation from tribes, legislators, and the ACLU.

Some lawmakers were also unhappy that no one from the administration was at the meeting to discuss another proposal that would create an emergency fund for cleanup of any Keystone XL spill.

“As a Republican, I am embarrassed that the leader of my party would not give us any indication as to this bill draft,” said Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs.

Separately, tribal leaders at the meeting also said they disapproved of plans to have Flute give the State of the Tribes address in January. The speech has been given by a chairman of one of the tribes for the last four years. It is intended to promote cooperation between tribal and state governments.

In November, Flute said he would be giving the address. He was chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe but left that position before joining Noem’s cabinet.

“I think it’s important to continue that tradition” of a current chairman giving the address, said Harold Frazier, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe chairman. “I probably won’t be there if a state employee is giving that address.”

Wileman said the Legislature’s Executive Board requested that Flute give the address and that he has a “broad perspective on the issues facing tribes across the state.” She said he has asked the tribal chairmen and presidents for input on the address.