There was little consensus on many of the highest profile issues of the 2013 Legislature at Saturday’s final Sioux Falls legislative coffee of the year.
On questions about Medicaid expansion, guns in schools, abortion and texting while driving, the 11 local lawmakers present demonstrated why those issues have been so controversial with collegial but consistent disagreement.
"This is an opportunity for us as a state to be in a leadership position and say, ‘We want to help these people who can’t help themselves,’" said Rep. Paula Hawks, D-Hartford, about expanding Medicaid eligibility to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty limit.
Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, took a different tack.
"This has got absolutely nothing to do with not wanting people to have health care," Otten said. "It does have to do with affordability and making sure we keep our budget within our means."
The “school sentinels” bill to give districts the option of arming volunteer defenders was praised as common-sense and permissive — and blasted as a step in the wrong direction.
"We’re not talking about giving everyone guns," said Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls. "The conversation is what about the districts that can’t have a law enforcement officer. Is there another person that could be qualified to get in there? I’m in favor of giving the school district that option."
Rep. Marc Feinstein, D-Sioux Falls, worried that putting more guns in schools would lead to innocent students being shot if there were ever an incident, citing an incident in New York City last year where trained police officers shot bystanders while trying to take down a shooter.
A ban on texting while driving also drew both advocates and skeptics. Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, said the ban could create “a culture of kids who start driving, who realize you don’t text and drive.” Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, said he was having a hard time coming up with arguments “about why someone should text and drive.”
But Otten said the ban would be impossible to enforce, and Rep. Isaac Latterell, R-Tea, suggested it was an example of government trying “to be everyone’s parents.”
A proposal to exclude weekends and holidays from South Dakota’s 72-hour pre-abortion waiting period inspired some of the morning’s sharpest language, with Feinstein quipping that “you don’t get pregnant just between 8 to 5 on weekdays” and Latterell concluding “unequivocally” that “Planned Parenthood does not care about women.”
Saturday’s legislative forum was sponsored by a range of groups including the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce. It was the fourth and final of four Chamber-sponsored legislative forums this session, which has two more weeks remaining.