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HB 1089 sponsors face backlash from fellow Republicans

The bill has lost three sponsors since it was introduced.
South Dakota State Legislature at the Capitol building in Pierre, S.D.
South Dakota State Legislature at the Capitol building in Pierre, S.D.(KOTA)
Published: Jan. 29, 2021 at 7:38 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A South Dakota state lawmaker who crafted a bill aimed at requiring the state to disclose security costs connected to Gov. Kristi Noem’s out-of-state campaigning says she is facing backlash from members of her own party.

Rep. Taffy Howard of Rapid City says her sponsorship of HB 1089 is garnering pressure from fellow Republicans - including from Noem’s office. She said she believes that pressure includes a text message being sent to her constituents.

HB 1089 is a bill that would require governors and other state officials to disclose security costs regarding travel. It would be applied retroactively to Noem’s security costs during her travel across the country on behalf of former President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

The governor made dozens of campaign stops across several states for Trump and other Republicans in the weeks and months leading up to the November election. She then again traveled to Georgia ahead of the U.S. Senate runoff elections earlier this month.

Noem and her office have avoided questions relating to security costs when she travels. A number of media outlets, including Dakota News Now, have filed requests through the Freedom of Information Act to access that information, but have been denied on the grounds that the state does not answer any questions about security.

“I don’t talk about security, I never have, no governor ever has,” Noem said Thursday during a press conference. “That is not something I should talk about.”

Howard, an ardent Republican, said she supported Noem’s efforts campaigning for Trump. But she feels HB 1089 should be a common sense, widely supported bill.

“If taxpayers are not funding it, I fully support her traveling and campaigning for President Trump,” Howard said. “It is about where do we spend their tax dollars.”

Some Republicans retreat from bill

A bipartisan group of state legislators are looking to make security information more accessible to the public through HB 1089. However, the number of Republican legislators co-sponsoring the bill has dwindled recently.

Representatives Rhonda Milstead (R-Hartford), David Johnson (R-Rapid City), and Marli Weise (R-Madison) all co-sponsored the bill at one point. But their names have all since dropped off the bill.

Several sources close to the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity tell Dakota News Now that Milstead “got a call to the second floor,” before her decision to drop-off HB 1089. Getting a call to the second floor is legislative vernacular for visiting the Governor’s office. Milstead was appointed by Noem to her state legislative seat in 2018.

“I know that this administration has a history of calling legislators down to the second floor,” Howard said. “(And) Basically telling them that if they don’t switch what they’re doing, change what they’re doing, their bills will be dead on arrival.”

Johnson said he dropped off because he originally signed the bill by mistake. Neither he nor the two other former sponsors have responded to requests for comments on the matter. Noem’s office declined to comment.

Anonymous text message

Howard said she has received an enormous amount of backlash for her decision to sponsor HB 1089. That includes an antagonistic text message sent to many of her constituents in District 33, which encompasses the western edge of Rapid City and the central Black Hills.

Representative Taffy Howard (R-Rapid City) is sponsoring legislation that would publicly...
Representative Taffy Howard (R-Rapid City) is sponsoring legislation that would publicly release the cost of public officials security, to include Governor Kristi Noem. Her support of that bill has prompted the following text message to be circulated in and around her district, with Howard's cellphone number in it. (Phone number blurred out)(DNN/KOTA/KEVN)

The message puts Howard’s picture alongside Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Vice President Kamala Harris. The message accuses Howard of “joining South Dakota’s most liberal/Anti-Trump Democrats in attacking Gov. Noem.” The message then lists Howard’s cell phone number.

Howard says that since the message started going out, she has received dozens of calls and texts from constituents. Some voiced grievances, but others were supportive.

It is unclear who sent that text message. However, if it is a state entity that paid for it, it could be in violation of state law.

According to South Dakota Codified Law 12-27-15, “Any printed material or communication made, purchased, paid for, or authorized by a candidate or political committee that disseminates information concerning a candidate, public office holder, ballot question, or political party shall prominently display or clearly speak the statement: ‘Paid for by (name of candidate or political committee).’”

The phone number that sent the message is registered to a company called Telenyx, which provides its users with the opportunity “send mission-critical messages with confidence.” However, the text message in question does not clearly identify who sent it.

An ethics complaint has been filed with the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office by one of the recipients of the message.

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