PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The governor’s legislation reinforcing that both parents are responsible for the cost of their child’s birth and also expands eligible expenses to include postpartum services will become law in South Dakota.
Governor Kristi Noem’s office announced Thursday that she has signed SB-75. The Senate approved it 35-0 on February 1, after Senate Democrat leader Reynold Nesiba had it removed from the consent calendar so that he could ask a question about it. The House of Representatives left it on the consent calendar and passed it 66-4, along with three other bills, on February 28.
Noem issued a statement Thursday about signing it. “South Dakota will continue to strengthen families and promote life,” she said. “The gift of a child too often comes with financial burden. Mothers should never have to take that on alone. It is the responsibility of both the mother and the father to equally pay expenses related to pregnancy.”
Republican Sen. David Wheeler sponsored the legislation for the Republican governor. He told the Senate, “It’s part of her pro-life agenda to show that being pro-life also involves more than abortion policy.”
Wheeler, an attorney, said state law already made both mother and father jointly liable for expenses of a child born out of wedlock but the language referred to pregnancy and “confinement,” a term he described as old. He said judges indicated that the law had been “rarely” used in their courtrooms.
“Mothers don’t find it easy to use. They don’t ask for these expenses. And so the fathers are not necessarily paying their fair share,” Wheeler said. He noted that the bill would clarify expenses and makes clear that postpartum recovery and any medical complications arising from pregnancy with the child must be covered. The mother also would now be allowed to use small-claims procedure against the father for reasonable pregnancy costs.
“When a child is born there are two people are involved in that and both people need to be liable for those expenses.” Wheeler said.
Nesiba asked Wheeler whether the legislation, in a case involving a birth covered by Medicaid, would create a new financial obligation for the father. Wheeler said the father is financially responsible already and the legislation only clarifies and expands allowable expenses.
Republican Sen. Tom Pischke said he agreed with the intent of the bill and would vote for it but said it “causes me a little bit of pause.” Speaking as a divorced father, he said South Dakota’s child-support system wasn’t fair — last year, he held up legislative approval of a new child-support schedule — and described child support as “wealth redistribution.” He said that boys are becoming fathers and in that respect the bill’s intent was good.
“But,” Pischke added, “there is some concern about overpayment from one parent to the other over the child’s life.”