2024 State of the State Address
By: Governor Kristi Noem
January 9, 2024
Lieutenant Governor Rhoden, Mr. Speaker, members of the House and Senate, Chief Justice Jensen, Supreme Court justices, constitutional officers, and my fellow South Dakotans:
My job today is to give you a report on the state of our state. Our State Constitution requires me to appear before you and deliver this speech, but it gives little guidance on how long the speech should be or what snacks may be served. Therefore, I plan to take some liberties. I will give you a thorough report, hopefully succinctly, and you will find snacks provided at your desk because, well, I like to eat. You may find these snacks to be reflective of this body – a bit salty, sometimes sweet, and may be a nut or two. Enjoy, and let’s get started.
First, we have with us several members of the South Dakota National Guard. Would you and any veterans in attendance today please stand and be recognized for your service to our state and nation?
Speaking of great South Dakotans, how ‘bout them Jackrabbits? Back-to-back champs! GO JACKS!
We are in a different time than we were just five short years ago. We used to talk about what we believe as conservatives and the importance of limited government, low taxes, American values, and personal responsibility. But then challenging times hit our state, our country, and our world. And we had to decide just how conservative we really were going to be here in South Dakota. Were we just going to talk about limited government and Freedom, or fight for it – defend it? Even when it wasn’t the popular thing to do, we stood strong on the Constitution and our state’s motto: “Under God the People Rule.”
South Dakota is doing better than every other state in the nation because we have embraced conservative principles. I’ve often called our state small, more like a pilot project for conservative reforms to prove if they really do work. And we have proven that they do. Our people are thriving, our economy is growing, and the state has never been in a more stable fiscal situation. We have cut taxes, created jobs, and maximized opportunities. We have also learned that there is a trick to keeping that momentum going. We have learned that we have to tell our story in order to succeed. We can govern conservatively, but we also need to keep our foot on the gas. South Dakota’s success is unprecedented. And we have a limited window of time where the eyes of the entire nation are on our state. We cannot miss the opportunity to capitalize on that.
South Dakota has proven that conservative policies help families thrive. We have shown the world that Freedom Works Here. And we’re just getting started.
During my Second Inaugural Address last year, I gave a “Top Ten List” of things that surprised me about being Governor. Well, I think it’s time for another such list. I can’t possibly cover today for all of you all of the wonderful things that we are doing in our state. But I can hit the highlights. So today, I am proud to present my Top Ten List of things we are doing here in South Dakota to ensure that Freedom Works Here.
#10 Freedom to Keep and Bear Arms
We protect our Second Amendment rights. Constitutional Carry was the very first bill that I signed into law. Two years ago, you all worked with me to make our state the first in the nation to waive all fees for concealed carry permits. We even pay for people’s federal background checks. It doesn’t cost South Dakotans a penny to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights. And last year, I signed an Executive Order which says that the State will not do business with any financial institution who infringes on people’s 2nd Amendment Rights.
We have been able to market our state as a 2nd Amendment haven. My Office of Economic Development is actively working to recruit firearms businesses from states that infringe on the 2nd Amendment to move here. Last year, California became the first state in America to levy a special tax on guns and ammunition, and we immediately invited California gun manufacturers to move here to South Dakota.
We’ve proven that Freedom works for these gun manufacturers. They’re moving here, growing, and thriving. Cole-TAC in Rapid City and Silencer Central in Sioux Falls have both had leadership who moved to South Dakota for a better life. These folks built thriving companies that employ South Dakotans and help our people exercise their 2nd Amendment rights. Other companies like H-S Precision, Black Hills Ammunition, and TS Custom Precision Rifles are a big part of helping this industry grow in South Dakota. Many of the leaders of these firearms businesses here with us today, would you all please stand? Thank you for giving South Dakotans the opportunity to utilize their Second Amendment rights!
And we aren’t going to stop there. Just last month, our Department of Game, Fish & Parks began moving dirt for a world-class shooting range West River. The South Dakota Shooting Sports Complex will be the premier firearms range in the Midwest. But the Biden Administration is undermining this project by changing the rules after they had already signed off. I am working with GFP to continue to build this range which will host world class events here in South Dakota and impact our economy long term.
#9 Way that Freedom Works Here: Freedom to Enjoy the Outdoors
My administration has made it a priority to enhance our outdoors opportunities. Every year, we’re ranked either #1 or #2 for the most hunting licenses per-capita. My Second Century Initiative is expanding opportunities for animal habitat across the state. South Dakota has more than 5 million acres of public access hunting opportunities, even though 80% of our land is privately owned. In 2023, we broke the record for most private land enrolled into public hunting access. The reason why is very simple: respect. We respect each other’s private property rights and seek permission to hunt on our neighbors’ land before we step foot on the property.
My Nest Predator Bounty Program is aimed at teaching respect for the outdoors and the wildlife to our kids and grandkids. Every year, participants turn in 50,000 tails of predators that would otherwise devastate our pheasant and wildlife population. This past year, 46% of the program’s participants were under the age of 18, and that number has been steadily increasing every year. We’re getting more South Dakota kids involved in trapping, fishing, and hunting.
In fact, my Department of Game, Fish & Parks works every day with families to teach them and their kids how to hunt. For example, GFP worked with the Gingerich family, and their three kids. Would you please stand for us today as I tell your story?
Morgan is 16, Samantha is 15, and William is 13. The family signed up for the Hunting 101 program. They learned how to navigate Go Outdoors SD.com to get their licenses. They learned firearm safety. When they practiced at the range, they celebrated with ice cream for hitting the 200-yard steel target. That’s a celebration I can get behind! GFP, with the help of a volunteer mentor, worked with them one-by-one to go out and attempt to fill their tags. First, William accompanied by his dad Reuben had successful harvests. Then GFP worked with Samantha (she didn’t get her deer the first time – she might have been a bit too chatty), then Morgan, then Samantha again got her opportunity (she was successful this time), and finally mom Danielle. All five hunters got their deer. As a family, they learned how to process the deer and prepare the wild game for the kitchen table. Now they have the tools and the skills to get back in the field together, make memories, and continue to put food on the table. And they’re still taking classes at The Outdoor Campus! The Gingerichs are here with us today – would you please join me in celebrating their harvest of five deer – and many more to come?
Those kinds of stories are possible in South Dakota because we respect the Freedom to enjoy the outdoors.
#8 Way that Freedom Works Here: Freedom to Farm and Ranch
Hunting is fundamental to South Dakota’s way of life, but I can think of one thing that’s even more fundamental: farming. We’re top-10 in the country for production of about 25 different agricultural commodities. Our farmers and ranchers provide about 30% of our state’s economic output. South Dakota farmers are free to farm; South Dakota ranchers are free to ranch.
Last year, I brought forward legislation that would have stopped foreign adversaries from purchasing ag land in South Dakota. China and other evil foreign governments are executing a plan to own our land and control our food supply. Although last year’s proposal to regulate these purchases did not pass, we have continued to discuss solutions. Congress has not taken action, and we cannot afford to wait another year. In just the past decade, China’s ownership of American ag land has increased by 5,300%. This is far too important to our national security to let another year go by and let our enemies gain a larger foothold in our economy and food supply chain. South Dakota respects the Freedom to farm and ranch. That Freedom should not extend to our enemies.
#7 Way that Freedom Works Here: Freedom to Be Secure
One of the biggest reasons that we cannot allow America’s adversaries, like China, to own South Dakota ag land is because Ellsworth Air Force Base is going to soon be the first home of the next generation bomber that will keep America safe for decades to come. The B-21 Raider took its first test flight just two months ago. And our enemies are going to do everything in their power to get intelligence on that bomber. It is our duty to do what we must to ensure that they fail – and that we succeed at keeping our people safe.
Sometimes, keeping our people safe means that we need to extend our efforts beyond South Dakota. The Biden Administration’s failures at the border have been so well documented that I don’t need to go into them at great length here. For the third time in less than three years, South Dakota National Guard troops went to help. When I was with our soldiers at the border, I saw the inhumanity of Biden’s failed policies.
Until those policies change, the lack of security at the Southern Border is making South Dakotans less safe here at home. Drugs and human trafficking are devastating communities. More than 70% of the overdose deaths in America are now caused by fentanyl. South Dakota is not immune. We have led the nation in the decrease in overdose deaths two out of the past three years, and we are 2nd lowest in the nation overall. But we can’t stop there – we need to tackle the rising challenge of fentanyl and address the drug xylazine, otherwise known as the “zombie” drug.
When xylazine is mixed with fentanyl, it makes an already deadly drug even deadlier, and it brings with it a whole host of negative health consequences. My Department of Health is working with Attorney General Jackley on legislation to schedule xylazine as a schedule III controlled substance to combat this challenge in South Dakota.
#6 Way that Freedom Works Here: Freedom to Get a Second Chance
But if South Dakotans do get involved in drugs or another aspect of crime, that should not be the final word. Their punishment should match their crime, but they should also have the opportunity to rehabilitate and become better, more capable members of our society.
The new prisons that we are working together to construct will help achieve this, but we are not waiting until they are constructed to provide second chances for our people. Late last year, I spoke at a graduation for the Sixth Circuit Problem-Solving Court. Eight graduates – all of whom had been sober for a year or more – stood up and shared their stories and their hopes and dreams for the future. In fact, more than 150 South Dakotans graduated from this initiative last year. This is a rigorous program that includes five phases and requires frequent alcohol and drug testing. It’s a proven strategy that reduces recidivism, saves taxpayer dollars in the long-run, and restores hope and dignity for these individuals.
We have with us today Leta Wise Spirit, a wonderful woman who has done incredible things throughout the community. When I spoke at the problem-solving court graduation, Leta was recognized by the judges for her contributions and volunteer work. Leta, thank you for supporting these individuals – and thank you for everything that you do for our great state. We need more people like you in this world helping people recover and supporting them through this process of healing. Would you all join me in giving Leta Wise Spirit a round of applause?
Unfortunately, we can’t provide this type of programming in our old and overcrowded prisons. Last month, I commuted the sentence of a number of inmates, who qualified, giving them parole. They had been incarcerated with ingestion as their highest offense. Now they can begin their supervised transitions back into the community. We will continue to evaluate these second-chance opportunities for those who can prove they deserve them.
Once individuals are out of custody and back into society, we want them to have the opportunity to build a career so that they can provide for themselves and their families. In the last several years, we have advanced licensure reform in a variety of ways. There is another step on this path that we should take. My Department of Labor & Regulation is bringing legislation to provide second-chance license opportunities. This bill creates a set of standards to consider criminal histories and any possible rehabilitation by applicants and licensees. We need more plumbers, more electricians, more welders, and an unrelated criminal past shouldn’t stop qualified applicants from filling these roles.
#5 Way that Freedom Works Here: Freedom to Be Respected
Providing these kinds of opportunities is about dignity – and it’s also about respect. We should respect every person as an individual; as an equal; as an American. Tomorrow, on State-Tribal Relations Day, we will advance an effort that I have been working on since I became governor. We will hang tribal flags in the Rotunda of this Capitol. Three years ago, I signed legislation allowing our state’s nine Native American tribes to have their respective tribal flags hung in the Rotunda. We will hang the first of those flags: the flags of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Our tribes are part of who we are as South Dakotans, and we will respect their heritage.
We will also continue to support the Freedom of our Jewish and Israeli neighbors to be respected. On October 7, Hamas terrorists committed atrocities against the nation of Israel, some of which are so savage they are unspeakable. Since then, further hate and discrimination has occurred in America at an increased rate of 388% over the last year. College campuses across the country have become breeding grounds for disgusting antisemitic acts. Recently, there have even been isolated incidents here in South Dakota. The more it happens, the more it will be normalized. We must stop it before that happens. I am proud to support legislation this year to define antisemitism to make it easier to prove when conduct is motivated by antisemitism. This strengthens our anti-discrimination laws and ensures our allies and our citizens are safe and protected.
#4 Way that Freedom Works Here: Freedom to Learn
This includes supporting the teachers who give our kids that opportunity to learn. Teachers salaries have not kept up with increased funding to education. After this year, we will have raised funding to K-12 in South Dakota by more than 26% since I have been Governor, but teacher pay lags far behind. Our teachers deserve better.
Yes, I know that schools have their own challenges. But I also know this: the Blue-Ribbon recommendation wasn’t just that teacher pay would go up – the Blue-Ribbon promise was that teachers would be the first priority – that they would be paid more. So let’s do it.
In my Budget Address last month, I discussed the particular success of the Jobs for America’s Graduates program, which is preparing at-risk high school students for college or a career once they graduate. These students are accomplishing incredible things. We have with us here today one such student who I am confident will accomplish fantastic things in the life ahead of her. Melina Shields is the first and current statewide president of JAG-SD. She is a junior at Lyman High School in Presho. Melina has represented South Dakota at the JAG national leadership conference in Washington, D.C., twice. Because of her visits to D.C., she is interested in pursuing a degree in political science and business, and perhaps someday representing South Dakota in a leadership role. She and the other Lyman JAG students are working to coordinate a community meal for the town of Lower Brule, which will be held this month. Melina has faced some challenges in life, and she could have let that stop her from succeeding. But because of her own hard work – and the support of the JAG initiative – she is setting herself up for a lifetime of success and a bright, bright future. Would you all join me in giving Melina a round of applause?
When students graduate, we want them to have every opportunity open for them. Some of them will jump right into a career – and that’s great! Some of them will go to one of our tech colleges – and we have some of the very best in the nation. Some will go to college. Some might even join our National Guard – and then go to college. The young adults who make that brave choice to raise their right hand and serve our nation deserve our utmost respect, our thanks, and our support. Last year, this body worked with me to extend tuition for South Dakota National Guardsmen and women to 100% at our state universities. I’m asking you to finish the job and extend that opportunity to soldiers and airmen who choose to go to private colleges here in South Dakota.
#3 Way that Freedom Works Here: Freedom to be healthy
In South Dakota, we value living a healthy life, no matter where you live. Every South Dakotan should have the Freedom to live where they want – but they shouldn’t have to choose between a rural way of life and good health outcomes. In our rural communities, emergency responders are sometimes the only local healthcare providers. They often show up in our very worst moments. But the nationwide EMT turnover rate is 36%. And in South Dakota, nearly 90% of our emergency medical services are done by volunteers.
I have worked to support the dedicated men and women of this critical workforce. For the past two years, my Department of Health has been working to advance EMS access across our state with a $20 million investment. We put brand new state-of-the-art LIFEPAK 15s in the back of ambulances across South Dakota. We also worked with Indian Health Services to get these devices to ambulance crews in Eagle Butte and Pine Ridge.
And we just completed a comprehensive analysis of the current state of EMS in South Dakota through more than 400 stakeholder meetings over the course of 8 months. Later this year, the Department of Health will roll out a $7.5 million grant program to ambulance services. This effort will support the implementation of regional hubs and much more.
EMS transport times range from a few minutes to over an hour. During those transports, EMS professionals are in the back of an ambulance caring for the patient, oftentimes alone. South Dakota changed that. We are the first state in the country to implement Telemedicine in Motion. We are using telemedicine to connect physicians, nurses, and paramedics with the EMS personnel in the field. We work with our partners at Avel eCare to do it. There is nothing else like it in the country – and it is saving lives. Nearly 90 ambulance services throughout the state have installed Telemedicine in Motion.
One of the first major calls to Telemedicine in Motion came last December. A rancher was out caring for his buffalo when he was attacked by one of his animals. His injuries were life threatening – dozens of injuries from the horns and hooves of the animal, multiple broken ribs, lungs filling with blood, broken neck, and more. After pulling himself into a front-loader and driving back home for help, he was picked up by the local EMS agency who connected with the Avel team via telemedicine. A board-certified physician and nurses were on camera to help stabilize the rancher, coordinate with the receiving hospital, and activate the care flight team to expedite the transfer of the patient to Sioux Falls. Once the EMS crew arrived at the hospital, Avel maintained their support of the patient since Avel Emergency was installed in the hospital’s ER. After the patient recovered, he shared feedback with the care team: “They held my life in their hands and gave it back to me, something that I will be forever grateful for.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome a buffalo rancher and outfitter from Gann Valley, Jim Lutter, along with his wife Cindy. Jim is still here with us today thanks to the dedicated work of Ed Koenechne from Kimball Ambulance Service, and our Telemedicine in Motion partners from Avel eCare in Sioux Falls.
Ed is just a volunteer, but he saved Jim’s life that day, and he did it with the help of Dr. Katie DeJong along with nurse Casie Hunter, who are on the Avel team. Today, I have a very special announcement to make. I would like to honor Ed Konechne, Dr. Katie DeJong, and Casie Hunter with the Governor’s Award for Heroism for their incredible action to save Jim’s life.
These efforts are an investment in the future of EMS. More importantly, they are saving lives.
#2 Way that Freedom Works Here: Freedom for life
In order to live a healthy life, we must first have the Freedom get off to the right start. That Freedom extends to every single South Dakotan – before they are born; after they are born; until the day they die. Later this week, I will proclaim that 2024 will be “Freedom for Life Year” in South Dakota. The most important way that we will advance this is by taking care of both moms and their babies before birth AND after. Being pro-life means valuing the child’s life before their birth and throughout their life; it also means valuing and protecting that mother’s life.
The first 1,000 days of a child’s life (from the moment they are conceived to their 2nd birthday) are the most significant days for their development. Research in the fields of neuroscience, biology, and early childhood development has given us powerful insights into how nutrition, relationships, behaviors, and environments in the first 1,000 days shape future outcomes. Mom and baby must both be well nourished and cared for – that will lead to healthy physical, emotional, and mental growth as a child’s brain and body grow and develop. For instance, poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days can cause irreversible damage to a child’s growing brain, affecting their future in school and beyond. It can also set the stage for later obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health problems. It can even contribute to the next generation’s risk of poverty and poor health and behavioral outcomes.
If a baby is exposed to drug use, alcohol or tobacco use, poor health environments, or sexually transmitted illnesses; if there is a lack of good hygiene in the home, or lack of prenatal care and well child visits; if the child’s mother is abused; if the child does not have a safe sleep environment – each of these can have countless negative impacts on that baby’s future.
We care about the lives of our mothers and children. We have dedicated resources and time. But we can still do more to prevent the rising death rates of South Dakota moms and babies, particularly among Native Americans living on tribal lands.
So what are we doing in South Dakota? We are offering the Bright Start program to get one-on-one nursing services to first-time moms and their babies from pregnancy until the child’s second birthday. The Department of Social Services’ Pregnancy Health Home will offer care coordination to all pregnant mothers who are enrolled in Medicaid. These moms also have access to prenatal and postpartum coverage for up to a year after birth along with well-child and health maintenance exams.
The majority of infant deaths can be directly tied to unsafe sleep habits, so DOH provides safe sleep recommendations and education to new and expecting parents.
We help moms and families that struggle with smoking, drugs, or alcohol. DSS provides help for pregnant moms struggling with substance abuse disorder, walking with them and holding them accountable through their treatment.
We are doing all of this and so much more to help moms, families, and their babies both before birth and after. You can find all of this information in one place on Life.SD.gov. Moms can go there to answer questions about pregnancy, parenting, available financial resources, adoption, and more.
#1 Way that Freedom Works Here: Freedom to Work
This is what America was built on. South Dakotans will continue to remind the rest of the country the value of hard work and the dignity it brings. We have the Freedom to get up every morning and to provide for ourselves and our families. That’s the American Dream.
I always say that South Dakotans are some of the hardest working people that I have ever met. We still understand the value of hard work. And my goal as Governor has never been to create a government that does everything for people, but to create a government that empowers our people to do things for themselves.
When a global pandemic hit, many states closed down. South Dakotans kept working. While other states were experiencing record high unemployment levels, we broke the national record for the lowest state unemployment less than a year ago. We are creating opportunities for people to get into the career of their dreams. Last year, we announced an effort to expand apprenticeship opportunities for professions across the state. We wanted to give workers the opportunity to get trained for a career while still bringing home a paycheck. We wanted to give businesses the support they need to start and expand apprenticeship programs. In just the first two quarters since launching the expanded effort, we’ve more than doubled the amount of new apprenticeships from recent years. And we’re just getting started.
I knew that if we could just tell our story, Freedom-loving Americans from across the country would want to be a part of what we’re doing here. I knew that we needed to celebrate our success – then take the opportunity to capitalize and build on it. I knew that we had to show all of America that Freedom Works Here.
We are continuing the Freedom Works Here workforce recruitment campaign. This campaign is only six months old, and we’ve received thousands of applicants interested in moving to our state just through the program, not counting those who independently made the move. Thousands have already moved here! The ads have been viewed about 850 million times nationwide.
We did some research into some of the most-needed professions in South Dakota. The results were professions like electricians, plumbers, welders, and even accountants, so we’ve targeted ads towards those professions. After our first round of ads, I had businesses asking me how they could help us keep the campaign going. It quickly became clear that these ads were working, and that we needed to do more. Last week, we partnered with Avera, Monument, and Sanford to roll out the latest ad to recruit nurses to the state – that is our single highest number of job openings that we need to fill.
These ads are so successful because they tell South Dakota’s story. Our state licensing boards are reporting huge increases of out-of-state applicants seeking licenses in South Dakota – including a 78% increase in plumbers, a 44% increase in electricians, and a 43% increase in accountants. Our labor force has grown by more than 10,000 people in just the last year. Our license recognition bill combined with the microphone of Freedom Works Here is a powerful tandem to fill these much-needed jobs.
That is a story that many people across this country have never heard before. Folks are moving here in record numbers to become a part of our winning way of life. Californians and New Yorkers have never seen a state like ours – one that trusts our people, and one that embraces and promotes liberty and Freedom. This is indisputably the most impactful workforce campaign in South Dakota’s history.
Well, there you have it. My Top Ten reasons why Freedom Works Here in South Dakota. I’m sure that there are more, though. In fact, I’d say there are more than 900,000 reasons why Freedom Works Here – because every single resident of South Dakota represents our way of life, our God-given rights, and our Freedoms that we hold so dear.
I will continue to challenge the status quo, push innovation, and look for out-of-the-box solutions. Look at everything our state has accomplished in the last five years! We would not be where we are today, experiencing the growth that we have been for several years, if we had not figured out how to keep the momentum of our success going.
I am not going to slow down now. We can’t afford it. Not when people are flocking here by the thousands to see what we’re all about. Not when we are one of the few beacons of hope left in this country.
Freedom Works Here. Our people are thriving because of it. Thank you. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the great state of South Dakota.