COVID-19, tax changes, and healthcare were just some of many topics touched on during Governor Kristi Noem's State of the State Address Tuesday.
Much like last year's address, the Republican governor began by touting South Dakota's hands-off approach to the coronavirus pandemic, praising the state for staying open despise rising cases.
"Two years ago, we made a decision in the face of a global threat. We chose not to compromise our values," Norm told the joint session in Pierre. "We kept businesses, schools, and churches open. We did not decide who is essential and who is not. We chose freedom and personal responsibility over mandates and lockdowns. We took steps to be safe, to guard public health. But we also trusted people to make decisions that were best for them and their families."
Noem discussed expanding the state's at-home COVID-19 tests, ordering 1 million more for South Dakota residents to have free access to in-home testing.
South Dakota has joined several other Republican-led states in a lawsuit against COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Noem, in 2021, signed an executive order that overrode a national mandate for all state employees to be vaccinated against the virus. Now, Noem plans to introduce legislation to "protect people's rights to a medical or religious exemption. She is also recognizing natural immunity to the virus.
"The COVID vaccination should be a choice," Noem told lawmakers. "And we should reject the efforts that we’re seeing in other parts of the country to divide us into two classes: vaccinated and unvaccinated. Unvaccinated Americans are still Americans. We live in a free country – free to make our own decisions. The government does not get to make them for us."
ABORTION AND HEALTHCAREIn 2021, Gov. Noem signed an executive order banning telemedicine abortions in South Dakota. Today, she asked lawmakers to make that a state law.
The Governor also spoke about expanding telehealth to emergency responders and rural areas to help South Dakota's the medical assistance they need quicker.
Addiction and mental health was also touched on, with Noem promising regional behavioral crisis centers across South Dakota to help people to get the help they need quicker and closer to home.
REVENUE AND ECONOMY
The South Dakota Dept. of Labor is partnering with Dakota State University to create a Future Workforce Finder tool to help South Dakota residents find work across the state, promote job training and match students with careers. The state is also expanding the cybersecurity training program at Dakota State.
Gov. Noem praised South Dakota for its economic growth in 2021. General fund revenue is $20.8 million higher than initially thought in December and the state is $16 million above ongoing legislative estimates for this fiscal year.
The state also hopes to expand its Second Century Habitat Fund. Hunting and fishing bring in $1.3 billion to the state economy and protecting the natural habitats is a top priority for Noem, who is an avid hunter herself.
Noem is introducing legislation this session to bring prayer back to South Dakota schools, in a way. This legislation would allow for a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day, that students, teachers and staff can use as they wish.
New legislation aims to remove all fees for South Dakota residents to get concealed carry permits, including the cost of federal background checks.
Noem is eliminating a specific tax, bingo tax.
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