PIERRE | Gov. Kristi Noem outlined priorities Tuesday ranging from improving state government transparency to connecting more people to high-speed internet in her first State of the State address.
The new Republican governor marked the start of the 2019 legislative session with the state capitol speech, saying it's time to start the search for South Dakota's next big industries and pledging to tackle methamphetamine abuse and work toward the most open administration the state has seen.
"Serving as our state's 33rd governor is an immense honor, and I look forward to it," Noem said.
Noem said she wants to break down barriers to filling workforce shortages, announcing a pilot project for inmates at the state prison facility in Springfield to build new modular multi-unit houses that smaller communities could buy and offer for workers to rent affordably. She said she's also directing the state to work with professional groups and licensure boards to review licensing requirements.
Noem said South Dakota can't allow meth to "break apart our families, consume our resources and destroy our state."
She proposed expanding treatment and prevention programs and called for state funds to be used to for education, particularly aimed at youth. A plan will reach her desk by the end of the legislative session to "stare down" the state's meth problem, Noem said.
She declared government transparency the "cornerstone," calling for a reporter shield law and bringing more "sunlight to the statehouse."
"Many Americans and many South Dakotans are losing their trust in government," Noem said. "Stories of government ineptitude and downright scandal don't help matters much. I hear you, and I'm with you."
On education, Noem said she will propose legislation requiring high school graduates pass the U.S. citizenship test. Noem also gave her support to legislation that would give home-schooled students another path to get a state scholarship for residents who attend South Dakota colleges.
Noem said the jobs of the future are nearly certain to require access to the internet. Her team will work on mapping to figure out gaps in the state's broadband coverage and plans to commit state resources to "closing the broadband gap," Noem said.
She said the Governor's Office of Economic Development has been charged with creating public-private partnerships to help surmount rural service challenges.
"Partnering with others, I want to connect as many South Dakotans as possible to high-speed internet over the next four years," she said.
Noem also invoked former Gov. Bill Janklow's successful push in the 1980s to bring financial services companies to South Dakota in calling for the state to search for the "next big thing." She said the economic development office will be pinpointing the next generation of targeted industries and seeking to bring in those sectors' most innovative companies.
Noem said she plans to give a budget address in "the next week or so." Republicans overwhelmingly control both legislative chambers for the 2019 session, which runs into late March.
House Majority Leader Lee Qualm said Noem is excited to move the state forward, praising Noem for setting lofty goals in her first State of the State address.
He lauded proposals from Noem to boost resources for pheasant habitat management; Noem called improving and maintaining habitat "essential" to pheasant hunting's future. Qualm said he's looking forward to digging more into the specifics to make "some of these great things happen."
"I think you have to set the goals high. I really appreciate that, setting them high, and we'll get it figured out," Qualm said. "Give us a lofty goal to work for. I think that's great."
Democratic legislative leaders said they share Noem's priorities in areas including drug addiction, workforce housing and job training. But Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert said Noem's speech left out discussion about the K-12 funding formula, getting people access to health care and online sales tax revenues.
"There was not a mention of health care, and I think in our state right now, we have some people with some serious health-care issues and needs," Heinert said.