Legislators discuss hemp, guns, sexual identity at cracker barrel

RAPID CITY, S.D. – The people of Rapid City had questions on many hot topics in South Dakota’s legislature.

Throughout the better part of a Saturday morning, lawmakers answered to the public on proposed bills that have entered the lawmaking process during a legislative cracker barrel.

In a nearly-filled chamber room at the South Dakota School of Mines, constituents queried legislators on bills covering the legalization of industrial hemp, the possession of firearms by business employees and sexual identity relating to high school athletics, among others.

The industrial hemp bill, or House Bill 1191, was passed for Senate consideration on Monday in overwhelming fashion: 65 to 2. Some lawmakers said its association to marijuana and the trace amounts of THC, a psychoactive component of marijuana, in hemp gave them initial pause.

St. Rep. Tony Randolph, (R)-Dist. 35, shares some of those concerns, but he later changed his vote after pouring over research provided by the bill’s primary sponsor, St. Rep. Oren Lesmeister, (D)-Dist. 28A.

“My biggest thing is … the connection between the two,” Randolph said. “Hemp is used in so many – I believe the number was 25,000 – different products.”

HB 1173, “an Act to permit the possession of firearms by certain employees,” also hit the discussion floor. The bill aims to prohibit employers from banning legally-owned firearms from being kept inside an employee’s vehicle that is on business property.

One of the bill’s sponsors, St. Rep. Tim Goodwin, (R)-Dist. 30, took a proud stance on gun ownership: “one thing that we never bring up when we talk about guns is that an armed citizenry could defense (sic) the bad guy that’s trying to do something … if I was at the workplace and I had my .22 mag. Kel-Tec with a 30 round magazine, I would defend them.”

Andrea Serna is a coordinator with the A-Team of the Black Hills, an advocacy network for and of people with disabilities. She says that the presence of firearms could create an unsafe environment for her staff and they have a right to keep their residents comfortable.

“We don’t want to infringe upon anyone’s rights,” Serna said. “However, we do have a right within our parking lot, within our staff vehicles – things like that – to keep people from accessing weapons that could hurt themselves … or other people.”

A similar gun bill with a reversed implementation, Senate Bill 122, would prohibit the South Dakota Board of Regents, public colleges and institutions of higher education from enacting policies that would restrict students from bringing legally-owned guns onto a campus beyond any current limitations.

St. Rep. Goodwin based his feelings on a conversation he claims to have had with SDSMT President Jim Rankin: “I asked [Rankin] ‘what’s this going to do to you if we allow guns on campus?’ and his answer was that he was fine with it in the parking lot, in the vehicle – locked – … but he really asked me to go against that as far as carrying freely.”

HB 1225, a high school athletics bill to determine an athlete’s participation in school sports based on their sexual identity, rounded out the Saturday discussion.

The legislator-constituent debate echoed back to the defeated “transgender bathroom bill” from the 2018 cycle. HB 1296 would have required schools to create policies regarding student usage of restroom facilities that corresponds to their biological sex at birth.

Meanwhile, HB 1225 would set a standard for student placement in high school athletics organizations that is also based on their biological sex.

A number of lawmakers presented arguments that members of a sex opposite to the dominant sex would have an unfair competitive advantage that varies sport-by-sport. Some audience members against the proposal, however, felt that lawmakers were creating “solutions in search of a problem.”

Sarah Keppen, Board President of the Black Hills Center for Equality (BHCE), said the policies in place by the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) already address the issue – currently, a student cannot claim a gender identity for the purpose of “gaining an unfair competitive advantage.”

“It is my understanding that this policy is working beautifully. If they have any issues, they are able to handle that at the local school district level,” Keppen said. “It has worked very well with them deciding on a case-by-case basis.”

St. Rep. Randolph also commented from the perspective that the average female competitor would be weaker than a biologically male competitor that identifies as a woman.

“There are some females that are pretty strong. I’ve known some: they grew up on a ranch and they worked pretty hard, so they were pretty strong … a man … [that] has more muscle structure, denser bones … [and] matches up against a female that’s in the same weight class has a clear advantage.”

The final Rapid City cracker barrel will be held at Western Dakota Tech’s Event Center on March 2.


Categories: Local News, Politics & Elections, South Dakota News