On the legislative process

It is hard to describe what it is like out here to anyone who has not been to the Capitol building when the legislature is in session. The building is filled with legislators running around to committee meetings, lunches, or onto the floor to vote; lobbyists stalking the halls, running after legislators or lurking in the hall, hoping to catch their attention; and staffers trying to get all the nitty gritty work done amid the flurry of action.

Some people refer to passing legislation as “sausage making.” It is not a pretty comparison, and it is not one I feel adequately represents what really happens out here. A lot of thought and work goes into this process. A lot of people are involved. And hardly anyone sees eye to eye on every single issue that comes through these halls. Some bills do not make it out when they should. Some bills do make it out that create disasters. And, frankly, most bills make it out to very little effect at all. Cleanup bills, things that just remove small inconveniences or create better processes to make South Dakota run more smoothly.

And it is, truly, hard to describe, which is why I think a lot of people wonder what on earth goes on out here in Pierre when they read stories about this bill that passed, or that bill that did not. I think it is a good idea to limit the amount of time legislators spend out here, because it is very easy to lose sight of what is going on out in the “real world.” Pierre is far from most South Dakotans, but what goes on in this building has to reflect what South Dakotans want and what is best policy for the state. How can legislators do that when they do not live in their communities as non-legislators most of the year, like California? I do not think they can, so I am glad that in South Dakota, legislators only get 38 days. That’s it.

On that note, though, even though legislators spend time in their communities, they HAVE to hear from their constituents. These guys (and gals) are the ones with the votes. They decide whether more midwives can practice in South Dakota; whether individuals and utilities can benefit from programs like net metering; and to what extent mineral extraction industries are required to take care of both landowners and the environment from which they are extracting those minerals. They are your reps, and they need to know how the people they are representing think. Do not imagine that because you voted for someone, they know how you feel (unless you’re best buds and neighbors; then you are probably fine). Contact your legislators. This process moves quickly. They need your help – so give it to them!


  1. DRA does a good job of informing those of us that cannot be in Pierre on a regular basis. This blog is a great way to receive timely information and should help get constituents involved in the legislative process. I definitely encourage everyone to contact their legislators on bills they support, bills they oppose and to thank them for serving as your representative. Nothing makes a person feel better than getting a positive message or a word of thanks. Come on folks – get involved!

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