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Senate committee rejects legislation to disclose Noem's security costs while campaigning
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Senate committee rejects legislation to disclose Noem's security costs while campaigning

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Gov. Noem

Gov. Kristi Noem

PIERRE | A second legislative attempt to get an accounting of the costs for Gov. Kristi Noem’s security detail failed Wednesday morning in the Senate Transportation Committee meeting.

SB165 was the second attempt to find out the costs of Noem’s security. She has traveled around the country, campaigning for President Donald Trump and other candidates, accompanied by troopers from the S.D. Highway Patrol. An earlier attempt to get the costs disclosed, HB1089, sponsored by Rep. Taffy Howard, R-Rapid City, was defeated in the House State Affairs Committee.

Sen. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, said the purpose of SB165 was “simply to understand what the security costs are when our governor travels.”

Nesiba provided committee members with Article II, Section 8 of the state constitution that says the motor fuel tax must be used exclusively for the maintenance, construction and supervision of highways. Nesiba explained that in the 1990s Gov. Bill Janklow sought to use the motor fuel tax to fund the Highway Patrol, a move Nesiba said made sense.

While using the motor fuel tax to pay for troopers patrolling the state’s highways was permissible, Nesiba said, he has been unable to find out if the motor fuel tax is paying for the governor’s security “which is a misuse according to our constitution.”

Nesiba said he has had staff from the Legislative Research Council trying to figure out how the state pays for the governor’s security. He said the response from LRC was “I can’t tell. It’s not disclosed. It’s not clear.”

Speaking in favor of the legislation was David Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, who said the public is entitled to an aggregate accounting of the cost of the governor’s security.

Bordewyk said there must be a way to provide some cost information without jeopardizing security. “There should be some common middle ground.”

Bordewyk’s sentiments were echoed by Tim Waltner of Freeman who called on the committee to pass the legislation to reduce public mistrust and provide accountability.

“Sadly, this appears to be a partisan issue,” Waltner said. “It shouldn’t be.”

An overall yearly accounting of the cost of the governor’s security detail would be enough, according to Waltner. “It doesn’t call for a tick-tock timeline.”

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Speaking in opposition to the bill was Craig Price, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, who noted that in addition to the governor, the Highway Patrol can be called on to provide security for the lieutenant governor, the supreme court, visiting dignitaries, legislators and other elected officials.

“We don’t talk about security,” Price said. "Any disclosure about security details, salary numbers, the investigation of threats or equipment could be information used to form a plan to harm the governor.

“Security is more effective when the perpetrator knows less,” Price said. “We must be thoughtful and careful.”

Nesiba said the legislation didn’t seek a detailed accounting of the governor’s security costs.

“We don’t want anything that’s going to put anybody at risk,” Nesiba said.

Asked by Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, if the motor fuel tax was used to fund the governor’s security detail, Price said the security funding comes from the highway fund, driver’s license fees and the Highway Patrol fee included in the motor vehicle license.

Heinert asked why it was risky to provide an aggregate number for the security costs.

“I’m sure we’re not packing sack lunches for the Highway Patrol,” Heinert said.

Price said the cost of security differs depending on the governor’s destination. “It gives them information that we don’t want to give up.”

A do pass motion by Heinert failed for a lack of a second. Sen. Jessica Castleberry, R-Rapid City, made a motion to defer the bill to the 41st legislative day, a tactic that kills legislation. Castleberry said she understood Nesiba’s argument “but I also think the case was made very strongly by” Price.

Heinert said constituents are asking about the cost of security during the governor’s travels.

“We cannot tell them because they don’t tell us,” he said.

The vote to send the bill to the 41st day was endorsed by the committee on a 6-1 vote.

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