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Meet Erin Healy
Patient Experience Strategist, Sanford Health
At 2 a.m. on election night in 2018, the results for the legislative races for District 14 in Minnehaha County were in. Erin Healy had won a seat to serve in the South Dakota House of Representatives by 200 votes.
“It was really exciting,” she says. “I had a lot of odds against me. I’m a young woman, I’m a Democrat in a super minority party and I live in a Republican district. But I worked really hard. I knocked on my district’s doors twice, and I proved that I care about my constituents’ concerns and legislative priorities.”
The following January, Erin headed to Pierre to serve alongside 104 other representatives and senators from across the state. Three years later and Erin is serving in her third session after winning reelection this fall by equally close numbers, which are typical for a Democrat trying to win in her district.
“This year’s election cycle was unique due to COVID-19,” she says. “I encouraged my district to vote early, so I didn’t see my numbers come in on election night. Similar to my first election where I pulled through on votes near the end of the night, I was able to gain enough votes in absentee ballots to win.”
As a member of South Dakota’s lawmaking body, Erin researches, writes and votes on legislation. To understand the issues pertaining to each bill, she seeks insight from people in a variety of professions, such as health care or education.
“You listen to the narrative of the people who are bringing the bill forward, and then you ask a lot of questions. What’s going on in our state? Is this a problem we need to solve through statute? Why is this bill necessary?”
Erin also introduces her own bills too. In 2019, she began reading an editorial series in the Argus Leader about a lack of educational opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
“It explained that our education system has been failing them,” she says. “They are graduating at a lower rate and their test scores are lower. Part of this is because we don’t have the right tools and services in place to help them in our public education system.”
Erin then introduced a bill asking the South Dakota Department of Education to start collecting data on every deaf and hard-of-hearing student in the state. This way, state officials and educators could better understand the needs of students within each school district.
“I also talked to a lot of speech pathologists who said this bill is going to help them get the people and the services they need to make the classroom setting more equitable so all students can hear what’s going on during class and understand it,” she says.
After the bill passed in the House and Senate, Gov. Kristi Noem signed House Bill 1228 into law.
“Data means having more knowledge,” Erin says. “And by having that, this bill can make a difference in the lives of hundreds of people in our state.”
Every day, Erin thinks about how legislation could impact people’s lives either positively or negatively. She considers her position as a lawmaker to be both an honor and a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly.
“You can be making an impact on people and their lives or be hurting them by not listening to the right stakeholders,” she explains. “I’ve always chosen to make sure that every piece of legislation I bring forward is going to somehow help and not hurt any of our state’s populations.”
Being a voice for people who may feel like they don’t have one in state government was a key factor in Erin’s decision to run, along with creating positive, lasting change.
“I’m always looking for solutions to make South Dakota a better place for everyone to live,” she says. “Sometimes it feels like we’re slowly gaining traction on certain issues to do this, but it can be done.”