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State Flag Commission bill goes down
Austin Goss/SDBA

State Flag Commission bill goes down

PIERRE – A proposal to commission a group to create a new state flag failed to clear a Senate committee Monday morning.

And though the bill was sent to the 41st day, Sen. Reynold Nesiba’s bill managed to pick up two surprising Republican votes on its way to defeat.

Had lawmakers passed SB 113, it would have created a task force made up of appointees from the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Tribal Relations, the Director of the State Historical Society, the Secretary of Tourism, the Director of the South Dakota Arts Council, and two practicing visual artists from South Dakota to come up with a new design for the state flag to replace the old one.

That commission would have owed both the Legislature and the Governor a design by December. Adoption of a new flag could only happen with approval from both.

A change, said Nesiba, could lead to more and better recognition for the state – especially based on recent successes in the tourism industry.

The Democratic Senator from Sioux Falls had two vexillologists, people who study flags, testify to the merits of changing the state’s flags.

One of those testifiers was Ryan Schultz, a senior from Brandon Valley High School who pushed Nesiba to bring the bill.

“South Dakota has a lot of new eyes on it,” said Zach Deboer, a vexillologist who helped design the city of Sioux Falls’ flag in 2018. “Now is the perfect time for us to do this, and pick a design made by and for the people.”

A study conducted by the North American Vexillological Association found South Dakota’s flag to be one of the worst looking in the nation – a distinction that can be at least partly credited to it featuring more words on it than any other flag in the nation with 17.

“People are not using our flag to show how proud they are of being from South Dakota, it’s just not happening,” Deboer continued. “You don’t see it on t-shirt and hats…”

Though two Republicans joined in voting with Nesiba – who is also a member of the State Affairs Committee – to send the bill to the Senat floor, five voted against advancing the idea.

Sen. David Wheeler of Huron, who led the motion to kill the bill, admitted that while the current flag wasn’t perfect, he was opposed to change.

“If we were designing to start from scratch, I am sure we would go with a lot of the points we have heard today,” Wheeler said.

“But we are not, we have a flag that has been with us for a long time and I don’t see a particularly need to change it.”

Nesiba told South Dakota Broadcasters Association after his bill’s defeat that he was optimistic about the direction of the conversation moving forward.

“I am hopeful that this bill will start a dialogue about our state flag,” said Nesiba. “It could be more effective at representing this state that we all love.”

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