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State ID waiver for homeless South Dakotans takes winding road out of committee

"It always bothered me that there is not a box that somebody can check that says, ‘I’m homeless, but I need this ID to move forward with my life,’” said Rep. Kadyn Wittman, of Sioux Falls.

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Rep. Kadyn Wittman, a Democrat from Sioux Falls, testifies in favor of a proposal to waive fees on nondriver identification cards in the House Transportation committee on Feb. 7, 2023.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

PIERRE, S.D. — A proposal to waive the fee on nondriver identification cards for the state’s homeless population, which advocates say would remove a barrier to accessing employment and housing, is finally out of the House Transportation committee, with a 10-1 vote on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

Unlike most appropriations bills that exit policy committees on their way to appropriators with a “Do Pass” recommendation, the vote Tuesday sent it to the Joint Appropriations Committee with no recommendation.

“I understand some of the reservations that came from the opposition,” said Rep. Kadyn Wittman, a Democrat from Sioux Falls and the idea’s major backer this session. “But I also think this is a really good, impactful bill that I can thoughtfully bring in front of appropriations and say this is a worthwhile thing to invest in. So I’m hopeful.”

Wittman, who worked in a homeless shelter, said bringing this proposal was “the reason [she] ran for House.”

“This was something I ran into weekly. It always bothered me that there is not a box that somebody can check that says, ‘I’m homeless, but I need this ID to move forward with my life,’” Wittman said. “It bothered me so much that I said, ‘I’m going to run for office and I’m going to do it myself.’”

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But it didn’t come easy, as the proposal became a winding case of “the third time’s the charm.”

On Jan. 31, a version of the bill waiving the $28 fee on non-driver identification cards for anyone below the federal poverty line was rejected 8-3 by the transportation committee. In the following days, an attempt to “smoke-out” the bill — a maneuver to get a fallen bill out of committee and onto the floor — never materialized. Finally, the House Transportation committee itself sponsored the bill in its current form.

Under the proposal, homeless South Dakotans would have the $28 non-driver identification card fee waived if they submit a letter to the Department of Motor Vehicles from a nonprofit organization that provides homeless services verifying that the applicant is homeless. The bill would appropriate $75,000 over three years; any dollars not appropriated by July 2026 would be returned to the general fund.

The bill’s promise to help the state’s homeless population begin the process of becoming self-sufficient earned it bipartisan support.

“If this helps get a few people working on their own and off the state’s welfare, I think it’s worth a try,” Rep. Marty Overweg, a Republican from New Holland, said during his testimony in favor of the bill. “Sometimes problems are solved by just starting somewhere.”

The lone opponent to the bill, Jane Schrank, who directs the Driver Licensing Program with the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, noted that she had not heard from nonprofits serving the homeless that this was a problem, and communicated concerns of a potential administrative burden, which she said was not considered in the price tag attached to the bill.

“There would be implementation challenges with this, mainly to verify the letter provided by the nonprofit organization,” Schrank said.

Wittman said that concern did not match her experience, as the agency already works with nonprofits providing services to homeless residents.

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“It’s the exact same thing that they do currently,” Wittman said. “Just instead of sending the bill at the end of the day to the [Sioux Falls homeless shelter] Bishop Dudley House, they would pull it out of this fund.”

MORE BY JASON HARWARD
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Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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