PIERRE – Gov. Kristi Noem proposed an aggressive line-up of policy proposals during her State of the State speech on Tuesday. She promised to tackle improved internet access in rural areas, increased pheasant habitat and a crackdown on methamphetamine use.
Noem pledged that her administration would live up to the state’s tradition of fiscal responsibility while she also said she would work to make life better for the next generation of South Dakotans.
“I want to be a governor who improves South Dakota,” Noem said.
Better internet access
Noem noted that South Dakota’s rural way of life keeps its citizens connected to the land but often at the expense of internet connectivity.
“Internet access is taken for granted in urban areas,” Noem said. “As I see it, this is a statewide issue.”
Noem said she refused to put the issue aside when told that it could cost as much as $15,000 per mile to lay fiber optic cable.
She said the state would work with private industry to incentivize investment in better rural internet connectivity and map out the gaps in coverage throughout the state.
More pheasant habitat
The governor recalled her family opening a pheasant hunting lodge on its farm. “To us, hunting isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of life,” Noem said.
To improve pheasant hunting, Noem said she was kicking off an initiative to increase habitat without raising taxes. She has directed the Game, Fish and Parks Department to increase efforts to locate more habitat and proposed the sale of a special license plate with its proceeds to go directly to pheasant habitat.
Noem told a joint session of the Legislature that it should consider her the “Sportsman-in-chief for South Dakota pheasant hunting.”
Improving state economy
Noem recalled Gov. Bill Janklow’s efforts to change state regulations and make the state attractive to the credit card industry.
“It’s time to start looking for the next big thing,” Noem said. “We need to kickstart our economy.”
In many cases workforce shortages are due to housing shortages, Noem said. To combat housing shortages in rural areas, Noem has proposed a pilot project that would create duplex, triplex and quadplex housing units. Built at the prison in Springfield, those units would be made available for rent at affordable prices to communities with populations of 5,000 or less.
“I’m confident this project will expand affordable housing for workers,” Noem said.
The new governor said her administration will work to overhaul the state’s licensing requirements for business.
“We can’t let unneeded red tape get in the way of growth,” Noem said.
At a press conference after the speech, Noem explained that licensing needs to be streamlined for the spouses of personnel at Ellsworth Air Force Base. She said it can take up to a year or more for a spouse to get a South Dakota license in cosmetology or insurance sales.
She also proposes bringing together employers, public school teachers, the Board of Regents and representatives of the state’s technical schools to work on ways that they can provide graduates with the skills they need to get jobs.
A ‘Week of Work’
Noem talked about her ag background and the useful experience she got doing chores on the family farm.
“The best way to prepare young people for work is experience,” Noem said.
She is proposing a “Week of Work” in which students from every high school in the state would get out of the classroom to see what it’s like to have a job.
She said students need to learn how to show up for work on time, dress professionally and interact with customers.
Noem received sustained applause from the legislators when she said she’ll offer legislation that would link high school graduation to successfully passing a U.S. citizenship test.
“They must know the story of our past generations,” Noem said, referring to high school graduates.
While opioid addiction is in the national news, Noem said that South Dakota has a bigger problem with methamphetamine.
“Meth is filling our jails and prisons,” said Noem, who noted that the vast majority of the illegal drugs come from Mexico.
“We are paying the price for our nation’s failure to adequately secure our southern border,” Noem said.
The governor said her plan would include aspects of education, enforcement and treatment.
“We will help every South Dakotan learn the early signs of meth use,” Noem said.
More foster care
Noem said one of the side effects of meth addiction is the children who can no longer be cared for by their addicted parents.
“When I see a child who has lost their family to meth, it breaks my heart,” Noem said. “We can’t look away. We have to stare down meth.”
Noem promised that she would speak whenever she could about the need for more foster families in South Dakota.
“You’re going to get tired of hearing me talk about it,” she told the legislators. “The next generation of South Dakotans won’t thrive if they don’t have a home.”
Noem said transparency was a “cornerstone” of her administration. She promised citizens better access to agendas, minutes of meetings and live streaming of state government meetings.
She joked that if her Cabinet secretaries didn’t keep pace on her transparency initiative, she would make them contribute to a pheasant habitat fund.
She also reiterated her campaign promise to create a common sense reporter shield law in South Dakota. Shield laws keep reporters from being compelled to turn over their notes or testify.
“I want that bill on my desk before the end of the session,” Noem said.