Lobbying Virtually in the South Dakota Legislature

Above, March 5, 2020, Sister Lynn Marie advocates for people to have their driver’s license exam printed in their native language.

When Nano said she would go anywhere in the world to be of service, it is unlikely that she had in mind the halls of the South Dakota Capitol as a place to which her Sisters would be missioned. However, as we have learned, the need for justice, mercy and advocacy are addressed in places where Sisters are not typically found.

This is the case with Sisters Kathleen Bierne and Lynn Marie Welbig, along with Presentation Person Judy Blauwet, who are registered lobbyists representing the Aberdeen Presentation Sisters in the South Dakota legislature. This is their sixth year in this ministry.

Their lobbying work begins the evening before with searching through the hundreds of bills introduced each day during the legislative session, identifying bills which negatively impact the poor, thwart justice, exploit workers and undercut the common good.  The Sisters then select the bills they might lobby: social justice issues where they might be effective.  Next comes the research that drives an effective lobby, plus prayer to the Holy Spirit that the Spirit’s voice might be spoken and heard.  The next day finds them in committee meetings, listening and lobbying.  Afternoons are spent in caucus and in the two chambers, tracking the points of view and the disposition of bills.

During the last two years, these lobbyists, have of necessity, lobbied remotely due to COVID which was weakly addressed in South Dakota…in the name of personal freedom. Using their phones and computers, they research bills, contact legislators, listen to and watch online, live-streamlined committee hearings and chamber action.  Testimony can be presented in writing, by phone or by Zoom. South Dakota Public Broadcasting provides these live-streaming services for public use.

In recent years we have brought attention to bills concerning Native American and immigrant issues, struggling single parents, environmental degradation, health care, respect life issues, voter and democracy suppression, politicizing education, etc. We have also addressed the significance of Medicaid expansion and South Dakota’s oppressive food tax born by the poorest families.

Advocacy involves not only presenting concerns to legislators, but often providing them with information needed to make good decisions. This may include perspectives learned from ministry, personal stories, justice needs, statistical data and more.  At times references to Scripture from the Torah, Quran and the Christian bible are included in lobbyist messages.

One of Sister Lynn Marie’s favorites is to quote the two Great Commandments which conclude with, but which is often omitted is, “On these [two commandments] depends the WHOLE LAW and the prophet.”

Pope Francis says politics is a sacred calling, the opportunity and the obligation to order our society in just ways.  Asking for election obligates legislators to formulate policy and law to forward the common good, or in another language, to interpret the gospel in this time and place.  The ground legislators walk is sacred ground!