OURS: Legislators should push a new anti-nepotism bill

OURS: Legislators should push a new anti-nepotism bill

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In January of 2019, State Senator Stace Nelson pushed a bill that would have prevented South Dakota government employees from hiring or firing family members including parents, spouses, children and siblings.

That bill never saw the light of day as it died in committee.

The bill would have addressed the fact that Gov. Kristi Noem hired her daughter Kennedy - who was hired while still in college  - to be a $50,000 a year policy analyst. Her son-in-law Kyle Peters works for the Governor's Office of Economic Development for just under $60,000 per year. This information and much more is easily available at https://open.sd.gov/employees.aspx.

Noem isn't alone in this regard in South Dakota as the state has a troubling history with recent governors hiring at least one family member to top positions. When Sen. Nelson's bill was submitted last year, Gov. Noem countered that she should be able to hire the best people for jobs regardless of their last name.

More than half of the states in the U.S. have specific laws punishing nepotism for members of government. Our neighbors in Montana, Nebraska and Wyoming all prohibit enriching family members at the cost of the state's taxpayers. 

Not one to avoid controversy, Gov. Noem took an additional step in this year's budget to freeze the wages of teachers and all state employees while giving a raise to one member of her staff.

If you guessed “the employee with her last name" would be the one who received a raise, you are correct.

Kennedy Noem escaped the state's wage freeze and saw her salary increase to $57,912 per year. The governor's office says she will be taking on additional responsibilities although those responsibilities were not announced.

This is beyond the pale. It is time for the reputed conservatives in the South Dakota legislature to live up to their reputation. It would be unfair to single out this governor's family when so many in the past have used the policy to their families' advantage. However, legislators can and should prohibit the practice after the next governor is elected. The policy should be broad, covering all state employees.

Gov. Noem knew the move wouldn't be well received by the thousands of state employees and teachers whose salaries were frozen by the budget she submitted this month. She knew giving her daughter a raise would be unpopular as well.

She did it anyway.

It is time for the legislature to act as a co-equal branch of government and reign in a governor whose brazen actions reveal the need for oversight.

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