South Dakota House Rejects Resolution Criticizing Noem | New policies

By STEPHEN GROVES, Associated Press

PIERRE, SD (AP) — The South Dakota House on Tuesday rejected a Republican-sponsored resolution criticizing Governor Kristi Noem for allegedly interfering with a state agency to help her daughter’s application for a real estate appraiser’s license .

Democrats and a group of Republicans who sparred with the GOP governor joined in supporting the resolution, which would not have had the force of law. It was defeated by a vote of 29 to 38 in the GOP-controlled House.

The resolution, introduced by Republican Rep. John Mills, sought to call Noem’s conduct “unacceptable” and “detrimental” to state employee morale for an episode that was first reported by the Associated Press. Mills said he was troubled after hearing about this report and following a subsequent legislative inquiry.

“I thought of the message telegraphed to state employees – a message that said that even if something is unethical or possibly illegal, if the governor requests it, I have three choices: either I do what is asked, either I resign or I risk being fired,” Mills said in a speech to the House.

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After the Appraiser Certification Program in July 2020 decided to deny Noem’s daughter an appraiser license, Noem held a meeting with his daughter, the program director and other key agency decision makers. Noem’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, had one more opportunity to show that her job as an appraiser could meet federal requirements, and she received her license months later.

Shortly thereafter, the agency’s director, Sherry Bren, was forced into retirement. She eventually received a $200,000 settlement to withdraw an age discrimination complaint.

Noem has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and suggested that Bren was obstructing efforts to make it easier for potential appraisers to obtain licenses.

“The resolution is filled with lies,” said Noem spokesman Ian Fury. “Kassidy received no special treatment and his deal was in the works ahead of the meeting.”

Fury claimed last year’s legislative inquiry “found no wrongdoing”, although the committee did not release a final assessment. Additionally, three of the five House lawmakers who served on the committee voted for the resolution.

Fury pointed out that the Speaker of the House could have given the resolution to a committee, where she would have had a stronger hearing.

“I’m done talking about this political blockbuster work,” Fury said. “The governor is focused on serving the people.”

Tuesday’s vote in the House showed the reluctance of rank-and-file Republicans to openly criticize Noem, despite last year’s investigation in which a legislative committee heard testimony from Bren and a cabinet secretary.

A Republican caucus leader, Rep. Chris Johnson, interrupted Mills’ speech to accuse him of unethical behavior. House Speaker Spencer Gosch rejected Johnson’s challenge.

Meanwhile, lawmakers moved to gain more power to scrutinize the settlements after legislative inquiry was sometimes hampered.

Bren and Noem’s secretary for the Department of Labor and Regulation, Marcia Hultman, declined last year to answer lawmakers’ questions about why Bren was forced into retirement. They were both bound by a non-disparagement clause in the $200,000 deal.

Both the Senate and House have passed measures to clarify that non-disparagement clauses in the colonies cannot be used to prevent people from speaking at certain closed legislative meetings. Since the Senate made changes to the House version of the bill, both houses would need to agree on a version before it could be sent to Noem’s office.

A separate state agency, the Government Accountability Board, is also evaluating an attorney general’s complaint against Noem for his conduct. He gave her until April to respond.

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