Updated 1-25-15: Changed references from “pair of professionals” to “para-professionals”… That whole part of the cracker barrel makes so much more sense now!
Today was the first of four Cracker Barrels to be held in Aberdeen this legislative session. As I noted previously, legislators from Districts 1, 2, and 3 were invited to attend. None of the District 1 legislators were able to attend. However, there was a Legislative Cracker Barrel taking place today, so those legislators were at that event (they have three more Aberdeen Cracker Barrels to attend, so no big deal). Also missing from this Cracker Barrel was Rep Tulson (R-2).
As usual the event was hosted by the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce and was held in the NSU Centennial Rooms. Chris Haar acted as the moderator. The legislators were each given five minutes to recap the session so far. Then people from the audience were allowed to ask questions of any or all of the legislators. Finally each legislator was given two minutes for a wrap-up.
Before the legislators spoke the NSU President, Dr Smith, was allowed to speak for a few moments. He gave an overview of some successes for the numbers NSU has in enrollment. Most notably though, at the end of his little speech he had some things to say about education during this legislative session. Smith noted that there isn’t a lot from NSU on the legislative agenda this year. But, he said he is very interested in salary policy as it has become harder for the University to attract faculty. Smith encouraged the legislators not to rely too heavily upon the Consumer Price Index (CPI) “as the barometer” for setting pay. Smith would like to see a number of 3, although he guesses many faculty members believe that number is too low.
Now, on to what the legislators had to say (this is a LONG post, I apologize ahead of time for any spelling and grammar errors that I haven’t found/fixed):
Opening Remarks – Each legislator was given up to five minutes to recap the session thus far.
Representative Dan Kaiser (R-3) – Kaiser lightheartedly mentioned he was the only one without a family member on the panel… Kaiser mentioned HB 1083, which would allow volunteer fire departments to collect civilly due to a fire being started due to negligence. Currently a municipality and state can collect civilly. He the prime sponsor of that bill in the house. Kaiser also mentioned a bill that Rep Feickert (D-1) is working on that would allow counties to set the wheel tax. He said that might be a good option to allow counties to find funding for fixing their roads.
Representative Al Novstrup (R-3) – Novstrup noted that most of the bills going before the legislator so far this session have been department bills. These bills originate from State departments, thus they are usually non-controversial and often focus on clean-ups.
Senator David Novstrup (R-3) – Novstrup had a handout he made available for the cracker barrel with a high-level comparison of the transportation funding proposals from Highway Needs summer study (SB 1) and the Governors Highway funding bill. Here is a scan of the document Sen Novstrup handed out. I will give a had-tip to the Senator for bringing this hand-out with.
Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2) – Greenfield noted that there is a desire within the legislator to do something for transportation and education funding. He hopes to see something significant come out of this session on those issues. But he noted that not many people elect their legislators to raise taxes, so a balance must be maintained. Greenfield mentioned SB 34, which will assist veterans by revising the administration of certain benefits. He noted that when the bill was before the Senate State Affairs Committee they amended the bill to give it an emergency clause so it could take effect immediately after being signed into law. It has now passed the Senate and should easily pass the House.
Representative Lana Greenfield (R-2) – Rep Greenfield noted that she is on the House Health and Human Services Committee. She said the HHS committee “has proved to be kind of a firestorm”. In particular she called out HB 1058 and HB 1059, and she has received communications from constituents that as written the bills are not good. She noted the Dept of Health is working on an amendment to HB 1058 to make it work.
My Thoughts – The only thought I have on the opening remarks is in regards to Rep Greenfield’s comments on HB 1058 and HB 1059. Previously I blogged my thoughts about 1058 as not being as big of a deal as many believe it to be. I still think that is somewhat true. However there is language that could definitely be tightened up to ensure the DOH does not abuse it power. I am happy to hear the DOH is reworking the bill, and look forward to see what changes are proposed. I still feel however that too many are attacking this bill without having read it and are making claims about forced immunizations that simply isn’t in the language.
Transportation funding through a tourism tax – The panel was asked about a proposal out there that would fund education through a 1% tourism sales tax. The questioner noted there is not connection between tourism and education. He also noted school districts have the ability to tax and decide what to pay their people. He said we shouldn’t be looking to the state to know what to do, people know what to do.
Sen Brock Greenfield – Greenfield agreed there is no link between tourism and education. He doesn’t think that particular plan has a lot of support. Greenfield noted a broad view has to be looked at in regards to education. In particular there are shortages in many industries and fields, not just education. He noted baby boomers are retiring and that innovative ways must be found to replace shortages in the workforce.
Rep Lana Greenfield – She doesn’t believe “throwing another penny” at education will get more teachers. Instead she believes people like Dr Smith are doing a good job promoting his University, and Greenfield believes that is the way to get some excitement about teaching. Greenfield says there needs to be a way to promote the teaching profession and get people excited about entering the field.
Rep Al Novstrup – Novstrup noted that the tourism industry in SD is already taxed at 8.5%, which is the highest of any industry in the state. He doesn’t believe it makes sense to go after more money in a sector that is already paying such a high tax rate.
Sen David Novstrup – Novstrup noted that sometimes people get the impression that education is only talked about the last week of session. He contends that is not true and that education is talked about the whole session. Novstrup notes it is talked about in committees and “in the hallways”. He also said there may be better ways to use the current money that goes into education that can better utilize the money.
My Thoughts – I think it is fair to say none of the panel members that spoke were necessarily in favor of using a tourism tax to support education. I would agree. As Rep Novstrup noted, tourism already has the highest tax in the state. It just doesn’t make sense to go for more revenue in that area. If a 1% tourism tax is added I believe it would negatively burden that industry compared to other industries.
Teacher Shortage – A question was asked about how to solve the teacher shortage.
Sen Brock Greenfield – Greenfield noted there are proposals going around. One suggestion was to find para-professionals who would be interested in going back to school to become a teacher and receive some financial support for doing so. He said another proposal that came from school administrators was to streamline the teacher certification process. That would mean less schooling time would be needed to get teachers into the schools. Greenfield noted there has been some resistance to that approach because it means there wouldn’t be enough of an age difference between teachers and students if a twenty-year old completed a streamlined teacher curriculum. He likes proposals to get adult professionals that would consider going back to school for a couple of years in a streamlined 2 year course and become a teacher. Greenfield says Secretary Schopp was “rather hesitant” about such a proposal. He was bringing forth these proposals because the thinks everyone needs to look at innovative approaches.
Rep Dan Kaiser – Kaiser also likes the idea of taking professionals in their 30’s and 40’s would could take a fast-track teaching degree and return to the workforce as teachers. He also believes that too much negative is focused on the negative aspects of teaching, especially by the media. Therefore he believes positive aspects of the profession must be focused on. He says ways must be found to motivate people. He thinks the talking points about education must be changed to make headway.
Rep Al Novstrup – Novstrup noted this issue is partially geographic. He noted that smaller towns have a greater amount of shortages than large towns. In addition he noted that certain types of teachers, such as math and science, are have greater shortages. He believes scholarships in these areas of need may be a solution. This has worked in getting more lawyers to small SD towns; and could work the same for teachers. As long as those teachers agreed to stay in a small SD town for so many years, then they would get their education for free. He also noted that perhaps certain teachers are not needed in all schools. Novstrup said using technology, such as with video camera feeds, that small towns can utilize teachers they would not otherwise be able to afford.
Rep Lana Greenfield – Rep Greenfield says school say they are getting very few applications for jobs; when they used to get a lot of applicants for any teaching job opening. She noted that forty-six cents of every dollar the state gets goes towards education. Additionally she noted that thirty-nine cents of each dollars goes to Medicare and Medicaid. That doesn’t leave much money for anything else. Greenfield also noted the shortage of teacher is a nationwide issue. She believes the problem is that people are not going into the profession. She spoke with Dr Schopp about the proposal to get teachers ready in two years, and Schopp had resisted because the board of regents wouldn’t go for it. Rep Greenfield doesn’t think age is an issue. She noted that many SD students are getting duel credits in HS and if done right they are already getting out of College in two years.
Sen Brock Greenfield – Sen Greenfield was the first to answer this, and he had more to say. He says when talking to school admins they say that salary is part of the problem. But he said the admins are saying federal and state teaching requirements also need to be part of the conversation. He believes that perhaps the legislature is putting too many burdens on teachers. Teachers having to satisfy the needs of bureaucrats cannot truly focus on their job.
My Thoughts – Actually I think Sen Greenfield did the best with his second answer on this. Any solution to the problem will have to focus on those local teachers. I believe if teachers are more empowered there will be much greater job satisfaction and the industry can start to grow again. Yes, increased teacher pay is also likely part of the answer, but I do not feel it is the only answer.
*** (this is the halfway point of the event, I think I’m getting better at shortening these posts… I’m under 2000 words.. barely.) ***
Transportation Funding – Question about whether the legislators support the concept Daugaard’s transportation funding proposal (even if they don’t like certain specifics). The questioner noted that State, Counties and Townships all need money.
Sen David Novstrup – Sen Novstrup noted he handed out the flier earlier because he wants to ensure its known that there is more to the proposal than a gas tax. At this point Sen Novstrup believes something needs to be done, but he is not sure what. Novstrup said something must be done this session. He believes everyone and every industry must have “skin in the game”. It shouldn’t target specific sectors, but should include everyone to get the revenue. At the same time he believes the money must be shared at all levels, including the county and township levels.
Sen Brock Greenfield – Sen Greenfield says he believes all the legislators support more resources for transportation funding. But he feels that since most of the bad roads in SD are at the town and county level, so priorities need to take that into account. He says at the same time the state roads must be maintained to keep their current good condition.
Rep Dan Kaiser – Kaiser’s main priority is to keep taxing and spending at the lowest government level possible. Especially at the local level. He noted that County Commissioners can act much quicker than a state legislature in dealing with road issues. He also noted that local County Commissioners are much easier to keep accountable than the legislators in Pierre. Therefore he is focused on solutions that are “closer to home”.
Rep Al Novstrup – Novstrup focused on his agreement that SD must be frugal with its money. But at the same time money must be spent now on maintenance so more money doesn’t have to be spent in the future to fix roads.
Rep Lana Greenfield – Rep Greenfield says not everyone is on the same page in this conversation. She noted that some are talking about roads that fall under different levels of government. Additionally she noted that west river legislators don’t even see this as an issue because they don’t have the same county road infrastructure as we do on the east side of the state.
My Thoughts – I agree that any proposals need to look at local solutions. The legislature must find way to allow counties and townships to solve their problems. Currently they are restricted by SD codified law from doing so on many fronts.
Medicaid Expansion – Question about what to do for those not covered since SD decided not to expand Medicaid.
Rep Lana Greenfield – She noted that it would cost SD too much money to expand Medicaid. Most notably she noted that if Medicaid would be expanded it would be hard to balance the budget (SD has a balanced budget requirement). She noted that it is easy for the Federal government to say they will give free money away to the states. Then later down the road the Federal government will “take the training wheels off” and at that time SD will have to fund Medicaid without assistance promised by the Federal government.
Sen Brock Greenfield – Sen Greenfield noted that many times the states are “left holding the bag” for promising free money that they don’t keep their promises on. He is concerned about how the law (ACA) was crafted. He said this law was created to help those that do not have healthcare, yet the program specifically keeps these people out of the system, unless they go on Medicaid. He also noted that the Federal government would not allow SD to tailor a solution to fit the needs of this state. He has noted that four states have now received waivers, so maybe that is possible for SD to try again so we can get a SD customized plan. Finally he noted that our short legislative session makes it hard to work out deals with the federal government.
Rep Al Novstrup – Rep Novstrup noted that kids, the elderly, the handicapped, and those unable to care for themselves are all taken care of by the current system in SD. He noted that the group being discussed it able-bodied adults. He says Medicaid expansion is asking one group of able-bodied adults to pay for another group of able-bodied adults. He also wondered what happened with Obamacare (ACA) being the fix for that situation.
My Thoughts – I couldn’t agree more with all three that answered this. Specifically I do believe that Medicaid expansion would eventually cause SD to break its balanced budget portion of the constitution; or at least further defund education to expand Medicaid.
Perpetual Tax Increase – A question was asked about the perpetual tax increase included in the Governors Highway funding proposal. The questioner also noted that farm trucks getting treated as commercial trucks would be cost prohibitive for farmers. He noted the 2290’s (IRS Federal Heavy Highway Vehicle Use Tax) have partial exemptions for farming.
Sen Brock Greenfield – Sen Greenfield noted that a perpetual two-cent increase “will not fly”. He said he has never seen a built-in multiplier done with a gas tax. As to the increasing cost of plates for farm trucks. He has heard from both sides of the issue that oppose making farmers get commercial plates. Current commercial truckers have noted that if farmers are forced to get commercial plates, then they would be forced to go into competition with the current commercial truckers to make the extra cost pay off. Greenfield has talked to farmers that have said the same thing. Because of that, he doesn’t see this as a “palatable” solution, especially in rural areas.
My Thoughts – I have spoken to farmers and truckers on the issue. Many of them have raised the same concerns as what Sen Greenfield mentioned. I do believe such a move might force farmers to also joint the market of commercial trucking. That may not be bad. But whether it is good or bad, it is worth considering it as a side-effect.
Give Bike Riders Room – Question about the proposed law to give bikers three feet of room on the road (HB 1030).
Rep Dan Kaiser – Rep Kaiser noted that this bill is really just a matter of education to get people to understand current laws. He noted the law proposed would require a three-foot minimum for a car passing a bike. He said a current law on lane driving (§ 32-26-6) requires drivers to stay completely within a single lane unless there is an intention to pass. So right now, if a car is going to pass a bike, it must go to the other lane as if passing a car. If this new bill were to pass, it would then change this so that a car could pass within three feet of the car, instead of to the other lane as they are supposed to do now. Kaiser feels the current law is much safer for a bike rider. He noted that three feet in the city might not sound like a big deal, but out on the highway those three feet is not enough space. He thinks more focus need to be placed upon current laws and educating drivers that bicycles and motorcycles are supposed to be treated just like a regular car when being passed.
My Thoughts – I actually looked at this bill before it hit the transportation committee on Jan 22. At that time I forgot to comment on this part of the bill. Personally I probably would have supported this part of the bill before hearing the current law. But now that Kaiser has explained the current law is actually much great than three feet I am inclined to believe this bill is too risky for bicyclists. I agree with Kaiser, educating the public about current law would probably be better than passing a newer law that would make it less safe for bicyclists. This new law would also create different rules for different types of vehicles, that just makes codified law more complicated.
I just realized something, this was the first question Sen Greenfield didn’t take part in.
Oil Spills – A question about what the legislature can do about the recent oil spills and land destruction.
Sen David Novstrup – Sen Novstrup noted the authority asked about has to do with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Rep Al Novstrup – Rep Novstrup noted there are four safety levels for moving oil. The first and safest level would be to move no oil. The second safest is to utilize pipelines. The third safest means is to use rail. And finally the fourth and least safest method is to use trucks. So of the three choices, he would prefer pipelines because it is the safest.
My Thoughts – Personally I hope more innovative ways will be found to create cheap energy without fossil fuels in the near future. Until then it is necessary to use oil. So I would agree that the safest method should be used.
Drones – Question about private drones being used in regards to hunters and private property rights.
Sen David Novstrup – Sen Novstrup noted the FAA has put a stop on drones commercially until the regulations are out. But he noted that for hobby use there aren’t any restrictions. There are no plans that he knows of for drone laws in SD at this time.
Rep Dan Kaiser – Kaiser noted the Supreme Court has ruled about aircraft over private property before. He believes this is an important issue that needs more research. Kaiser noted drones are becoming more popular, and many of them have little cameras on them.
Sen Brock Greenfield – Sen Greenfield believes drones going over private property would be trespassing. he noted the FAA has specifically exempted commercial aircraft from trespassing laws. Those laws would not likely apply to drones. The questioner asked Greenfield about the ND law restricting use of drones in wildlife. He noted it would likely be illegal to use drones to hunt if it goes over private land, because it would be trespassing in the same if a hunter sends his dog onto private land.
My Thoughts – First, I think there was some confusion here. As this article notes, it is already illegal to scout wildlife using drones. Further, the new bill being proposed in ND is actually aimed at groups, such as PETA, that are harassing hunters with drones. Personally I think a more timely drone conversation would revolve around a proposed bill in ND that would prevent law enforcement from using drones over personal property without first obtaining a warrant. As police departments find ways to expand their capabilities, it might be worth looking at ways to safeguard the rights of SD citizens from overzealous police departments. No matter what I expect drones to come up more often in the next couple of years. This previous summer when I attended DakotaFest for the candidate debates I noticed there were drone demonstrations going on for agricultural use. Drones are here, it is time to start having these conversations now!
Protecting the Elderly – A question about the financial abuse being caused by family members on the elderly, this was mentioned during Chief Justice Gilbertson’s State of the Judiciary speech.
Sen David Novstrup – Sen Novstrup noted he believes it was brought up to raise awareness of the issue. Right now there doesn’t seem to be an answer, and he believes if more people work on it a solution may be found.
Rep Dan Kaiser – Rep Kaiser said the discussion has to include education about the problem. He noted there are many con artists job that would apply to such situation. But sometimes the families might have to approach law enforcement if such activity seems to be happening.
My Thoughts – I don’t really have any thoughts on this one. I heard about this during the speech, and would hope it is not happening very often. But the fact Gilbertson raised the issue makes be believe it must be happening quite often. If it is happening I would support very strict measures. There is NEVER a reason for fraud, especially against the elderly.
Constitutional Convention – Question about whether the legislators support and Article V Constitutional Convention to pass a balanced budget amendment. HJR 1001 is the resolution in question. The question was about how the federal government being forced to do a balanced budget would impact SD financially.
Rep Al Novstrup – Rep Novstrup is in support of the balanced budget amendment for the federal government (he is a co-sponsor of HJR 1001). He said there will be pain felt if the balanced budget amendment is passed. Novstrup said our current national debt could lead to disaster if the interest rate goes up to five percent. He believes it would be more painful to not balance the budget.
Rep Dan Kaiser – Kaiser is not in support of an Article V convention. He does have concerns about the federal government overspending and would like to see a balanced budget. But he feels there is too high of a risk that there would be a runaway convention. He doesn’t believe the convention can be held to just one topic. Further, since the US has a fiat currency and a money manipulation policy, the budget would never truly be balanced. That would be because the private bank the Federal Reserve could simply print more money to make it appear the budget is balanced; when it reality it wouldn’t be.
Sen Brock Greenfield – Sen Greenfield shares the same concerns of Kaiser’s. He noted last year he was leaning the other way. But he has grave concerns about a runaway convention. Greenfield many groups of the other end of the political spectrum from him also want an Art V convention; and he wonders about their motivations. He believes that there needs to be fiscal constraint in DC. But he doesn’t trust them. Since they don’t follow the constitution now, he wonders if they wouldn’t find loopholes with such an amendment.
Rep Lana Greenfield – Rep Greenfield is not supportive of an Art V convention. She fears a runaway convention could cause more harm than potential good.
My Thoughts – This has been an interesting issue for me. Years ago I supported an Article V convention, much for the same reasons as Rep Novstrup state. However since then I have studied more, and have changed my stance. A year ago I wrote a blog post explaining the main reasons why. At its core my biggest fear is of a runaway convention. I just don’t think it’s worth the risk; especially since I don’t think a balanced budget amendment would actually change any behavior in DC.
Wrap-up – Each legislator was given two minutes for final words. I lost my audio for this portion. But from my notes I don’t think anything was missed. Wrap-ups are usually filled with fluff. This was actually a pretty interesting Cracker Barrel for being so early in the session. There were some interesting questions.
PS. I made it in under 4500 words!!
PPS. Oh wait. My PS put me over 4500 words…