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South Dakota Entered the COVID-19 Crisis on Solid Ground

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Dirk Lammers

In the past several weeks, Gov. Kristi Noem has shown an extraordinary ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. It’s not easy to balance both public health and economic concerns, but her leadership during the current public health crisis is deserving of applause, and South Dakotans should be proud of her diligence. 

Gov. Noem led coordination efforts with the federal government, the South Dakota National Guard, and private labs and medical suppliers to create a public health strategy that will properly support and equip health care workers when COVID-19 inevitably peaks in South Dakota. 

She worked with the legislature to preserve the state funds needed to fight the growing COVID-19 outbreak and plans to call a special session in June to adjust the budget even further. She is also committed to removing barriers to work and making it easier for South Dakotans to earn a living and provide for their families during and after the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“We're still going to over plan and over-prepare,” Noem told reporters. “We want to make sure we have the capacity to take care of South Dakotans. We will be ready.” 

The truth is, Gov. Noem did not wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to help South Dakota families find work—she has been doing it since she took office. 

The governor’s past efforts to expand job training and apprenticeship opportunities, and bring accountability to welfare benefits, have positioned communities statewide for a strong economic comeback as things slowly return to ‘normal.’

South Dakota has a AAA credit rating and fully funded state pension plan. It has no state income taxes. The governor has worked hard to expand high-speed internet connectivity for homes and businesses across the state, which thousands of residents are now using as a lifeline to work from home and stay connected with family. 

South Dakota entered the COVID-19 crisis on solid ground—an advantage that allowed the state to focus on targeted reforms to tackle specific and immediate problems in the communities affected by the virus. 

To meet the health care needs of South Dakota families, Gov. Noem temporarily suspended existing regulations on telehealth services that normally require face-to-face treatments, visits, and interviews with providers. She also granted full licensing recognition to out-of-state medical professionals to meet increased patient demand. 

These reforms will empower talented medical professionals—both in state and nationwide—to serve South Dakota families immediately, without having to spend valuable time navigating the bureaucracy and getting relicensed that could have instead been spent in the field saving lives.

For vehicles carrying relief supplies, the governor temporarily relaxed motor carrier laws to allow overweight trucks to deliver relief supplies.

To make a life of social distancing easier for South Dakotans during these logistically challenging times, Gov. Noem signed SB 190 into law to extend the validity of driver’s licenses for the duration of the statewide emergency. 

These examples of creative problem-solving and leadership are exactly what the people of South Dakota need during times of crisis and uncertainty. They are also proof that it is possible to expand access to medical professionals even further and increase flexibility for people trying to earn a living in South Dakota at all times—not just during the outbreak. 

Looking forward, many of these licensing and health care reforms should be made permanent after the state of emergency has ended. South Dakota was open for business before COVID-19. Gov. Noem is making sure it remains safe for everyone and as open as possible during COVID-19, and that there is a path forward for an even stronger South Dakota after. 

Next, it will be up to the legislature to make sure these game-changing work reforms will remain in place after COVID-19 by making them permanent law. Given their past record, we can expect that to happen.

Tarren Bragdon is the chief executive officer at the Foundation for Government Accountability

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