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Democratic lawmakers lament lack of masks in South Dakota House

South Dakota State Legislature at the Capitol building in Pierre, S.D. (file photo)
South Dakota State Legislature at the Capitol building in Pierre, S.D. (file photo)(KOTA)
Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 1:46 PM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Democratic South Dakota lawmakers are expressing frustration over efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Capitol after several legislators tested positive for the disease.

In a media briefing Thursday, members of Democratic leadership lamented the lack of mask wearing in the legislature, particularly in the House.

Earlier this week, two lawmakers announced they had been diagnosed with COVID-19. On Wednesday, we learned two more had tested positive, but only one announced their diagnosis. All four are members of the House.

“I’m not so much worried about fellow legislators as I am our staff, and the communities of Pierre and Fort Pierre,” Sen. Troy Heinert (D, Mission) said. “I’m worried about the people who graciously host us during the legislative session.”

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Legislative briefing

South Dakota lawmakers are delivering a weekly media conference to discuss the ongoing legislative session in Pierre.

Posted by Dakota News Now on Thursday, February 11, 2021

Rep. Jamie Smith (D, Sioux Falls) said members of the caucus have drafted a letter for House Speaker Spencer Gosch (R, Glenham) asking the House to institute the same measures as the Senate, which requires legislators to wear masks on the floor and in committees.

“It’s really disheartening when you watch a group of people wear masks in one committee, then the very next committee might be a House committee, and everyone takes their masks off,” Smith said.

Republicans also addressed the confirmed cases among lawmakers during their briefing, but were much more positive about the legislature’s plan thus far to mitigate the spread of the disease.

“We have processes in place. Business has not stopped happening, even with what we’ve been dealing with,” Rep. Kent Peterson (R, Salem) said. “We’ve had people testifying remotely, we’ve had legislators that have worked remotely this week. We still took the votes, we still had the hearings.”

Democrats also expressed frustration over how not all lawmakers who have tested positive have come forward, making it more difficult to determine contact tracing. Sen. Gary Cammack (R, Union Center) said that decision is up to each individual.

Smith stressed Democrats want to make the legislative session work, but he believes that’s going to take more work.

“We want to be here,” Smith said. “But we also want to mitigate the risk. That’s what it’s about. It’s about taking care of your neighbor, about caring for the other, it’s not all about me.”

Letter penned by the Democratic caucus encouraging more COVID-19 precautions
Letter penned by the Democratic caucus encouraging more COVID-19 precautions(Jamie Smith)

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