Legislators find local retreat is valuable by David Lias A little bit of Pierre spent last weekend in Vermillion.
Thirty-one Republican members of the South Dakota House of Representatives came here from all corners of the state.
They toured the main attractions of the Vermillion area and met in private to discuss issues that will be on the front burner during the next legislative session.
"As far as we know, this is the first time in history this has ever been done," said S.D. House Majority Leader Bill Peterson, Sioux Falls.
He credits Rep. Judy Clark, Vermillion, and officials at The University of South Dakota for helping to make the retreat possible.
"She (Clark) and the city of Vermillion, I think, have impressed quite a few people in the last day and half," Peterson said Saturday evening.
"I was very pleased that we had such great representation from legislators from across the state," Clark said.
Peterson said the retreat was valuable because term limits mean more lawmakers have less experience.
"Twenty of our 50 members this year were new members," he said. "We're trying to integrate new members of the House to the process of lawmaking more quickly."
House leaders, he said, have begun a mentoring program for first term members so they understand the work required of state representatives.
"Term limits also have required us to work harder and longer," Peterson said. "What we want to insure is that the
Legislature is an equal branch of government with the executive and judiciary branches."
Last weekend wasn't all work and no play. Lawmakers dined at the Buffalo Run Winery, toured the DakotaDome climbed Spirit Mound, and roamed the halls of the Shrine to Music Museum before dining there Saturday night.
"This has been a good experience for them," Clark said. "We will wrap things up about Sunday noon."
"The meeting itself is good but, I tell you what, this is the capstone right here," said Rep. Tom Hennies of Rapid City after viewing the instruments at the Shrine to Music. "I had no idea this existed in the state. I was amazed that we had as fine a facility as this devoted to such valuable musical instruments."
"I thought the retreat was great," said Tom's brother, Rep. Don Hennies, Sioux Falls. "We don't have enough time to have very frank discussions during the session, and I think this will be for the betterment of the Republican party, and the entire Legislature."