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South Dakota lawmakers fed misleading info before rejecting campus free speech bill, students say

South Dakota lawmakers told students didn’t like bill, but that’s not entirely the case

When a pair of student government leaders from South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota testified last week against a campus free speech bill before the state’s House of Representatives, the two students cited resolutions passed by their respective bodies that opposed the legislation.

Their testimony before the House Judiciary Committee was influential, with one Republican lawmaker citing it as a deciding factor in voting down the bill that sought to protect and enhance free speech rights at universities across the state.

Now a cohort of student government members from South Dakota State has alleged that the student testimony was “misleading.” Six South Dakota State student senate members claim the student resolution against the free speech bill was passed hastily, disregarding typical procedures and without sufficient campus input.

“The testimony and the resolution are in many ways misleading, and untrue because nearly no student organizations or students were consulted on this issue,” the senators stated in a letter, a copy of which was posted on the political website South Dakota War College.

The letter explains that the resolution bypassed the student government’s usual public comment procedures and that it wasn’t drafted until the morning of Jan. 29, the same day it was approved. Furthermore, the letter states the resolution wasn’t distributed to student senators until the very end of the late-night meeting.

“Senators were kept in the Student Union until nearly 11 pm, and were repeatedly pushed to bypass rules and vote on the resolution less than 10 hours after it was drafted, and before any students could be consulted,” the letter states.

Attempts to table the resolution failed, and senators eventually approved it 20 to 7.

The resolution was cited at HB 1073’s hearing by South Dakota State Students’ Association President Taylin Albrecht, calling it an example of opposition to the campus free speech bill. Albrecht also said HB 1073 would create unnecessary government oversight and that minority students had expressed concerns that it would allow “hate speech” on campus.

Danielle Rang, one of the six South Dakota State student senators behind the letter exposing the hastily approved resolution, told The College Fix in an email that she was disappointed to see the resolution mentioned during Albrecht’s testimony given the circumstance under which it was passed.

“This resolution was never publicly available to students prior to the vote unless a senator directly informed them, so logically it follows that the students as a whole had no idea we were speaking on their behalf,” Rang said.

Ryan Sailors, another student senator who signed the letter, echoed similar sentiments.

“I personally would have liked to see the resolution being tabled and give us more time to meet with the student body and get more educated on the legislation,” he told The Fix via email.

In addition to the senators who have spoken out, the editorial board of the campus newspaper, The Collegian, also criticized how the resolution was handled. In an editorial published last week, the newspaper said a vote on the resolution should have been postponed.

“While there were good intentions with this resolution, the presentation was poorly executed and hurt SA’s senator-student transparency. This resolution is too important to slide onto the agenda last minute,” the editorial stated.

But Albrecht told The College Fix that the student government followed its bylaws, which allow a first reading on a resolution to be waived with the approval of a simple majority. She also said her fellow student government members had plenty of time to garner opinions on the campus free speech bill.

“HB1073 was dropped in our state legislature January 12 and we did not take a formal stance until January 29th, over two weeks later. This should have provided enough time for our senators to reach out to their constituents to better understand the student viewpoint on this issue,” she said.

MORE: HB 1073 voted down in committee

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About the Author
Nathan Rubbelke served as a staff reporter for The College Fix with a specialty on investigative and enterprise reporting from 2017 to 2018. He has also held editorial positions at The Commercial Review daily newspaper in Portland, Indiana, as well as at The Washington Examiner, Red Alert Politics and St. Louis Public Radio. Rubbelke graduated from Saint Louis University, where he majored in political science and sociology.