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Senate revives hemp legalization with saving grace amendment

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A volunteer walks through a hemp field at a farm in Springfield, Colorado. Lawmakers in Wyoming are working on a regulatory framework to make it easier for farmers to grow the crop here. 

PIERRE | After some legislative finagling, a bill to legalize hemp in South Dakota is still alive.

House Bill 1191 failed to receive a two-thirds majority vote on the Senate floor on Tuesday. But a day later, lawmakers reconsidered an amended version of the bill to allow it to pass with a simple majority. On Wednesday, HB 1191 passed by a vote of 21-14 — the same as Tuesday's.

Previously, the bill allocated funds from a hemp licensing program to a designated fund to be controlled by the state Department of Agriculture. Wednesday's amendment changed the program to flow money into the general fund instead. The amended version of the bill therefore only needed a simple majority.

House Majority Whip Sen. Jordan Youngberg, R-Madison, said after Wednesday's vote that the amendment helps to address some of the Department of Public Safety's concerns with adequate enforcement funding. Youngberg said by putting hemp program monies into the general fund, appropriators could allocate some of the dollars to the DPS to pay for potential increased enforcement and roadside testing.

Otherwise, Youngberg said any unused program dollars would just sit in the fund unused.

Youngberg also admitted the amendment was, in part, a strategic move to lower the bill's vote threshold.

"We're the legislative branch," Youngberg said following the vote. "We're the people's branch and I think the majority of the people have spoken that they want the opportunity to grow hemp."

Because it has been amended, the House has to vote on the bill again before it can head to Noem's desk. The House previously voted in favor of the bill by an overwhelming majority of 65-2.

From the start, Noem has discouraged the legislature from passing a hemp legalization bill this session. She said South Dakota "isn't ready" for hemp and she is "100 percent convinced" hemp would lead to the legalization of marijuana.

HB 1191 prime sponsor Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade, said on Tuesday the bill has been amended to ease the administration's concerns with law enforcement and public health. After passing the amendment, though, Lesmeister said the governor's office changed their stance, saying the bill was, in fact, worse than before.

Noem has not stated whether she would veto the bill. If she does, the legislature could attempt to override her veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

By their previous 65-2 margin, the House could easily override a veto. In order to clear the Senate, though, proponents will need to pick up three more "yes" votes.

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