The South Dakota legislature will convene for its annual session in only twelve days, and from a distance, it doesn't appear as if it's ready for this mid-pandemic session.
Rep. Linda Duba of Sioux Falls announced this week that she will not attend the legislative session in person until she is vaccinated for COVID-19. She intends to meet all her obligations remotely, but at the moment, that is not considered an option.
We understand legislative leaders are working on a proposal for remote attendance, but that would need to be voted on by the legislature in person after the session starts.
At the moment, we have not heard coronavirus mitigation measures announced by either legislative leaders or the Legislative Research Council. We understand there are at least a few legislators who still consider the pandemic a political issues, even so far as saying it's "fake news" intended to achieve some sort of political win.
Mask-wearing has been a hotly debated topic in South Dakota, with some people saying they are both unnecessary and unhelpful (even unconstitutional), while others say masks are our best defense against the spread of the virus.
The legislative session is a gathering in which the virus can be spread. One hundred five legislators gather in two chambers every day, and committees meet in smaller rooms. Dozens of lobbyists and hundreds of citizens attend each year as well.
The session is at a time of year when it is cold outside, and doors won't be open to let fresh air in. Hotels and other venues also hold gatherings of many people in small spaces.
More than 20 legislators have already tested positive for COVID-19, including some who possibly contracted it at an event in Pierre this fall. Considering that only a portion of people with COVID-19 are tested, the number is likely higher, and will probably include some who will be positive on January 12, the first day of the session.
It's time to put politics aside and reconsider the health of elected officials, staff and the public. Perhaps we'll be pleasantly surprised at a secret plan that will be announced soon. But if there isn't an aggressive plan to protect legislators, they should start putting it together right away.
-- Jon M. Hunter