I’ve updated the SD State Legislators list (available in the menu above) with the results from the leadership elections recently held.
I believe these results have already been reported by other political blogs in the state. But, for anyone that wants to know who was elected to legislative leadership positions, here are the results of the caucus meetings:
2017-2018 Senate Majority Leadership
If I understand the President Pro Tempore correctly, this is not actually elected until the full Senate is in session and the Democrats get their votes. It is unlikely to change though.
Updated 8/16/16. Added two more legislative races without a general election due to placeholder candidates not having a replacement. These are Neal Tapio (R) for District 5 State Senate and Craig Kennedy (D) for District 18 State Senate. The possibility of District 23 State House having a candidate from the Constitution Party of SD was stopped in the court; so that race remains uncontested. With the changes there are a total of 29 candidates in 23 races that have already won the general election.
Currently there are a total of 27 candidates in 21 races that have already won the general election for the South Dakota legislature. Over the last month I have done a post about each of these won seats and will recap the list in this post. These previous posts were meant to take a look at some of the legislative priorities for candidates that have already won their general election. This is probably the last time I will blog about any of these candidates this year, unless they do something interesting on an interim committee or I run into one of them at a fair.
It should be noted I said “currently” in the first paragraph of this post. Candidates still have a few weeks to withdraw their names from the ballot. If a candidate withdraws and the local party does not find a replacement in time it could lead to the possibility of more uncontested general election races. Currently there are three Democrats showing as “withdrawn” on the Secretary of State website which have not been replaced by the local Democrat party yet. Two of these could leave a race uncontested: Ardon Wek is withdrawn from the District 19 State House race and no other Democrat is on the ballot and Chuck Groth is withdrawn from the District 22 State Senate race. It is also possible other placeholder candidates will withdraw their names as the deadline to withdraw looms closer.
Another possibility is that one of the uncontested races may in fact become contested. The Constitution Party of South Dakota recently nominated Wayne Schmidt to be a candidate for District 23 State Representative. It is now up to the court whether this will be allowed; see Ballot Access News for more information on this.
As of July 22, 2016, here is the list of South Dakota general election legislative races that have already been won.
Before I begin looking at the legislative races for the general election this fall in South Dakota I thought it would be worthwhile focusing on the districts which have no challengers. These races are technically already “won”. Even though there technically isn’t a race I still feel it is worthy doing a post about each of these non-contested legislative spots so constituents can learn a thing or two about who is representing them. First up with will be District 1.
South Dakota legislative District 1 does not have a general election race on either the Senate or House side. District 1 is the northeast corner of South Dakota (with a bit of creative legislative districting in Brown County). Towns in District 1 include Andover, Bristol, Britton, Butler, Claire City, Corona, Eden, Frederick, Grenville, Hecla, Lake City, Langford, Lily, New Effington, Ortley, Peever, Pierpont, Rosholt, Roslyn, Sisseton, Summit, Veblen, Waubay, Webster, Westport, White Rock, and Wilmot.
District 1 has been a Democrat stronghold for a long time. With no general election that will be true for at least two more years. There was not even a primary election this time. In this post I will look at a few pieces of prior legislation from all three individuals so constituents can get an idea of their legislative priorities.
Sen Frerichs will be entering his fourth term as State Senator for District 1. An interesting bill from Frerichs in 2016 was SB 145 (SoDakLiberty Posts). SB 145 was an Act to “require certain provisions to be met before allowing public utilities or carriers to exercise eminent domain procedures.” This was an interesting bill because it would have required a utility or carrier to wait until a projects permits are approved before allowing that entity to go forth with eminent domain. The bill also would have ensured no utility or carrier could use eminent domain until at least eighty percent of the landowners voluntarily allow an easement for the project. It seemed odd to me the Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary committee voted to kill this extra layer of protection against eminent domain abuse. This seems to me the type of bill legislators would want to back in order to protect property rights.
A bill worth looking at from 2015 is SB 2 (SoDakLiberty Posts). SB 2 was passed into law and creates river basin natural resource districts. This is a bill I thought would not pass. The river basin natural resource districts that are formed by this bill will create water management plan and add a new level of elected positions and non-elected bureaucrats around the state. It is commendable what the new districts are being created for, to manage and protect the natural water resources within the state. But there are many, including myself, who feel this new layer of government will be used against landowners. Frerichs himself has said this is not the case and has been a large advocate of these new districts; hopefully he is correct. There is a meeting of the River Basin Natural Resource District Oversight Advisory Task Force on June 20. That might be worth listening in on and learning more about the implementation of SB 2.
Normally in these posts I look at legislation prime sponsored by the elected official in question. But in Frerichs case I thought it might be worth looking at a something he did at the end of the 2016 legislative session. Pay raises for teachers was the big issue for the 2016 legislative session. The policy side of the teacher pay raise, SB 131 (SoDakLiberty Posts), was amended in the House by Rep Jacqueline Sly (R, Dist 33) to remove two-year averaging from the definition of fall enrollment. That change basically removed the safety-net for schools with falling enrollment and would hurt small school districts with declining enrollment. On veto day Frerichs tried to suspend the rules and introduce a new bill to undo the Sly amendment. Frerichs attempt failed. But this does appear to be a good example of Frerichs actually trying to do something to fix problems in legislation. It was also interesting from a political geek perspective as it was a procedural move that is not often tried.
Rep McCleerey has served one term in the House. For the last two years McCleerey has prime sponsored legislation to try limiting perpetual conservation easements to 100 years. In 2015 he tried it through HB 1152 (SoDakLiberty Posts) and in 2016 through HB 1180 (SoDakLiberty Posts). Both of these attempts failed to make it through the House. These perpetual conservation easements often don’t work how the landowners think they will, and the federal government often changes the terms of these easements. Many find it unwise to allow the federal government to have such long easements within the state of SD, where future landowners will be locked into an agreement that may not be in the best interest of their land at that time. Perhaps McCleerey will try this again in 2017.
Another pair of bills to look at from McCleerey both come from 2016: HB 1192 (SoDakLiberty Posts) and HB 1193 (SoDakLiberty Posts). Both of these are “ban the box” bills aimed at preventing employers from asking job applicants about criminal convictions during the initial phases of screening. HB 1192 would have prevented government agencies from asking about convictions. HB 1193 would have prevented private companies from asking about convictions. Personally I think HB 1192 was a good idea and would have been a good change for a state that loves to make money off criminal convictions. HB 1193 however would have been yet another mandate on private businesses. Personally I think businesses should refrain from worrying about convictions during the initial employment screening anyhow. But that is their choice, and it shouldn’t need a government mandate. Both of McCleerey’s bills were killed by House Judiciary.
Finally it is worth looking at a couple more bills from 2015 and 2016, yet they were not prime sponsored by McCleerey. 2016’s HB 1124 (SoDakLiberty Posts) and 2015’s HB 1166 (SoDakLiberty Posts) were both bills aimed at tanning beds. 2015’s bill originally would have prevented all minors from using tanning beds. It was amended to allow minors to use tanning devices with parental permission, and was then defeated on the House floor. 2016’s version was once again a ban on minors being allowed to use tanning devices. Both bill were seen as an unwarranted intrusion on the private sector and I’ve even heard them referred to as nanny state bills. These bills are mentioned in the section about McCleerey because he has been a very vocal supporter of both bills. Almost every time I’ve seen him speak at public events in the Aberdeen area he mentions the importance of tanning bed legislation.
Wismer formerly served three terms as State Representative for District 1. In 2014 she did not seek reelection for State House, and instead ran for Governor. In that race she beat fellow Democrat Joe Lowe in the party’s primary. Wismer was then soundly defeated by incumbent Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard. A main theme of her campaign was to prove a different voice in Pierre. Personally I think Wismer should be tapped for State Treasurer or State Auditor in 2018 when there won’t be an incumbent to run against. Her experience running a statewide race in 2014 could be translated into a possible win in 2018 if the party is willing to back her with some money and there is a strong gubernatorial candidate for her travel the state with.
In her return to the legislature Wismer will be taking the spot currently filled by Rep Dennis Feickert (D, Dist 1). Feickert is term-limited, making Wismer’s return to District 1 politics as easy as submitting her nominating petition.
Looking at legislation to look at from Wismer is 2014’s HB 1173 (SoDakLiberty Posts). HB 1173 was to allow counties to create a special purpose districts for county roads. This came about because of opt-outs continuously failing in Brown County, where rural residents need to fix their roads but Aberdeen residents don’t want to pay for it. This bill would have allowed the county create a county road improvement special purpose tax district. The bill did not pass the House, which is not surprising considering in 2014 there would be a summer study looking at infrastructure revenues. Additionally the counties were backing other solutions. The bill does show that Wismer was trying to do something before the legislature acted with the massive infrastructure tax and fee hike in 2015.
Another bill to look at Wismer comes from 2013: HB 1193 (SoDakLiberty Posts). HB 1193 would have raised the state sales and use tax from 4% to 5%. Wismer presented this bill by saying the State of South Dakota simply does not bring in enough revenue. Her testimony on the bill said there are many areas of state government that need a greater amount of funding. That makes it hard on Appropriations (of which she was a member) to try funding state government properly. It is almost surprising Wismer would propose such a large tax increase just a year before running for Governor. The bill unsurprisingly did not make it out of committee. Wismer did admit during the committee meeting that she would prefer instituting an income tax.
Yesterday Sen Jason Frerichs (D, Dist 1) attempted to introduce a new bill in the Senate on veto day in order to fix the “Sly amendment” to SB 131 (SoDakLiberty Posts). In order to do so he had to get his motion to suspend the rules approved by his fellow legislators. I didn’t think his little move would work, and it didn’t. In this post I will look briefly at the Sly amendment and my speculation as to what it means.
Before speaking of SB 131 it might be worth taking a few sentences to talk about HB 1182 (SoDakLiberty Posts). HB 1182 was the sales tax increase to give more money to teachers and reduce property taxes for everyone but farmers (actually HB 1044 (SoDakLiberty Posts) has the policy that screwed over ag land). The teachers union and school administrations did a good job of bringing a lot of attention to this bill. Included in this post is a picture of the House gallery as HB 1182 was being debated. The gallery was full of teachers and administrators. A LOT of attention on was placed on this bill, and away from SB 131. HB 1182 had little or nothing to do with whether teachers got a pay raise. It was one of almost a half dozen proposals to fund a pay raise, but it did nothing to actually control that pay raise. Teachers should have been more interested in SB 131 than worrying about which revenue increase to back.
SB 131 is the bill where attention should have been placed. Yet the galleries were basically empty in each chamber as SB 131 was debated. This bill actually sets the policy as to how the new revenues will be handled to increase teacher pay. At the most basic level this is being done by allocating money to schools on a per teacher basis instead of a per student basis. That means schools will have to maintain certain ratios to actually give the intended pay raises to teachers. The bill originally had small schools maintain a ratio of 12.5 students per teacher; that was later amended to 12 students per teacher to ease the suffering of small schools.
It my opinion, and the opinion of many others I’ve spoken with, this ratio is being used to force consolidation of school districts. Maintaining teacher pay for small school districts will be difficult, if not impossible, under this new formula. These small schools simply will not be able to compete with the larger districts for teachers. Personally I am a fan of consolidation and think it should happen. But I don’t think consolidation should be forced utilizing this dishonest method. There have already been signs of school administrators from smaller districts realizing what this new student/teacher ratio will do for them.
SB 131 did have one provision to slow down the pain of this forced consolidation. This bill used the definition of “fall enrollment” from § 13-13-10.1 to calculate this student/teacher ration. Here is the current definition of fall enrollment, which is also used up until the Sly amendment:
(2A) “Fall enrollment,” the number of kindergarten through twelfth grade students enrolled in all schools operated by the school district on the last Friday of September of the current school year minus the number of students for whom the district receives tuition, except nonresident students who are in the care and custody of a state agency and are attending a public school and students for whom tuition is being paid pursuant to § 13-28-42.1, plus the number of students for whom the district pays tuition. When computing state aid to education for a school district pursuant to § 13-13-73, the secretary of the Department of Education shall use either the school district’s fall enrollment or the average of the school district’s fall enrollment from the previous two years, whichever is higher;
I have bolded the key part above. Currently there is a two-year average calculated for each school district. Then either the current fall enrollment or the two-year average, whichever is higher, will be used for state aid to education purposes. That technically helps to insulate a school if there is a year where there is an abnormally low enrollment rate that does not fit with the normal enrollment trend. It also slows down the bleeding of money for school districts that are continuously losing students, which is currently happening in many small school districts. The simple fact of the matter is people are moving away from the more rural towns in favor of the more urban areas. This is a trend that is going to continue in all likelihood. The two-year averaging for fall enrollment is helping small schools to mitigate at least part of the pressure from declining enrollment.
Now to the Sly amendment. Rep Jacqueline Sly (R, Dist 33) proposed Amendment 131cm on the House floor. This amendment took away the two-year averaging from the definition of fall enrollment. Here is how fall enrollment is now defined for the purpose of determining state aid to education:
(2A) “Fall enrollment,” the number of kindergarten through twelfth grade students enrolled in all schools operated by the school district on the last Friday of September of the current school year minus the number of students for whom the district receives tuition, except nonresident students who are in the care and custody of a state agency and are attending a public school and students for whom tuition is being paid pursuant to § 13-28-42.1, plus the number of students for whom the district pays tuition. When computing state aid to education for a school district pursuant to § 13-13-73, the secretary of the Department of Education shall use the school district’s fall enrollment;
Without that two-year cushion the effects of declining enrollment will hit many school districts hard, especially small school districts. These districts are likely already using the two-year average to cushion their ongoing decline. This sudden change in law means the full impact of declining enrollment will be felt suddenly. That sudden drop will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the school boards in these districts to give the pay raises that teachers feel have been promised to them.
On veto day Sen Frerichs tried to introduce a bill to undo the Sly amendment. The Senate voted 13-20 in his motion to suspend the rules and introduce the bill. They simply were not going to fix this problem. I believe that is because many of them do not see this as a problem. As I said, I believe this bill was intended to force consolidation. The Sly amendment will likely force consolidation of some smaller school districts sooner than would have happened without the Sly amendment. The legislators voting on this bill understood the ramifications and were OK with that.
Perhaps the real lesson in the Sly amendment had nothing at all to do with the Sly amendment. I believe the real lesson here is that interested parties should place just as much, if not more, attention on the policy bills as they do on the appropriations bills. If the teachers unions, school administrators, and teachers had paid a little more attention to SB 131 I have a feeling the Sly Amendment would not have even been tried. It should be interesting to see what teacher pay looks like this upcoming school year…
On March 5, 2016, the third and final legislative Cracker Barrel was held in Aberdeen. This is notable because it may be the last Cracker Barrel Sen David Novstrup participates in now that he has officially announced he is not seeking re-election. Who know though, perhaps in a future year he may run again.
This event is split into four separate videos, but is presented below as one playlist.
On Thursday, February 11, the Brown County Democrats held another Front Porch Conversation in Aberdeen. This forum highlighted the three Democrat legislators representing District 1: Sen Jason Frerichs (D, Dist 1), Rep Steven McCleerey (D, Dist 1), and Rep Dennis Feickert (D, Dist 1). Sharon Stroschein was the moderator for this event.
Here is the video I recorded at the event. Due to the pure number of blog posts I’ve been doing I don’t have time to add commentary. But I think it is important for the voters of District 1 to find out what their elected legislators have to say. Actually it might be worth it for all voters in SD to check out because District 1 is one of the few districts in the state with only Democrats elected to the legislature.
On Friday, October 30, the Tribal Economic Development Task Force for South Dakota will meet in Pierre. This is a task force I haven’t really been following throughout the year, but maybe should have. There have been some interesting tidbits I’ve found in the minutes from previous meetings.
Before looking at the agenda for the Oct 30 meeting it is worth looking at a few items from the previous meetings:
June 5, 2015, Tribal Economic Development Task Force meeting
The minutes from this meeting show it was all about discovering how bad things are on the reservations. One part of the minutes does highlight one of the bigger problems I see with economic development on tribal lands:
Mr. Del Ray German said a lack of capital is a struggle. Senator Bradford pointed out that issues with trust land is a challenge, because business owners can lease a building for five years, put $50,000 into the building, and then after the lease is expired, the tribe can take the building from the business owner. It is a large risk to take.
Property rights and rule of law to enforce property rights are required for capitalism to function. This is a problem much greater than just a corporation going in and not being able to own lands. Many small businesses are financed through a mortgage on the primary resident of the business owner. If tribal members don’t own the house they live in, there is no opportunity to use a mortgage in order to take the risk and start a business. I still think tribes should look at somehow allowing financial services on the reservation that would allow for property rights. In the case of foreclosure it would still be tribal trust land. It would be interesting to see something like that tried in South Dakota.
August 10, 2015, Tribal Economic Development Task Force meeting
Looking at the minutes from the second meeting I see further testimony that property rights (or lack thereof) is a problem on tribal lands in a trust. Here is a portion of the minutes from the testimony by Mr. Michael LaPointe, Rosebud Sioux Tribe:
A much larger issue is the tribes have no ability to build wealth, and no taxing authority. Mr. LaPointe thinks there are two implications when you don’t own land, you cannot build wealth, and you can’t build tax revenue. This is a problem for the tribes. They cannot tax and hire a decent police force. Representative May asks if Mr. LaPointe believes the tribes should be in a partnership with the state government, instead of the federal government. Mr. LaPointe agrees.
Right now the tribes need to build wealth in order to be self-sufficient. A lack of property rights makes capitalism a hard tool to use for building wealth.
I also found the question fromRep Elizabeth May (R, Dist 27) about partnering with the state instead of the federal government was worth asking. State government is much closer and has a symbiotic relationship with the tribes. Logistically and legally that may not be an option. But it would be interesting to look into.
September 28, 2015, Tribal Economic Development Task Force meeting
This meeting also peaked by interest because of the possibility of industrialized hep mentioned in the minutes. Here is the full section about industrialized hemp from the minutes:
Representative Verchio distributed copies of a draft bill: An Act to authorize the production and sale of industrial hemp. (Document #1) Representative Verchio said that he sees this as an opportunity to produce jobs in both farming and manufacturing. Hemp does not cause a high when smoked, as does the marijuana plant. Hemp is used in making rope, animal food, cosmetics, and many more products.
Representative May said that two years ago she had proposed a resolution regarding legalizing the production of hemp in South Dakota. Representative May said that law enforcement had argued that they cannot tell the difference between the marijuana plant and the hemp plant when they are growing in the fields.
Representative May continued saying that this is a huge opportunity for South Dakota farmers and that having hemp as a rotational crop would be beneficial. She said that this specific bill has too many regulations that may hamper those interested in growing this crop.
Representative Verchio said that he included the regulations to help reduce the resistance from law enforcement. He said that once people see how this crop is grown and used; those regulations could be reduced.
Representative Verchio asked LRC staff to send copies of this proposed legislation to all members of the Tribal Economic Development Task Force so that it may be discussed further at the next task force meeting.
Unfortunately the draft bill offered by Rep Mike Verchio (R, Dist 30) was not attached to the minutes. I’ve blogged about industrial hemp a few times over the last couple of years and know many farmers in NE South Dakota that would love the ability to choose from hemp. For the tribes it could be a huge economic development tool.
The resolution mentioned by Rep May was 2014’s HCR 1017. May was the House sponsor, where passed 61-6. On the Senate side Sen Jason Frerichs (D, Dist 1) was the sponsor and it failed 13-21. Maybe the 2016 session can see a bill legalizing hemp passed, going well beyond a resolution. The federal farm bill including hemp research is a possible entry point to use for such legislation.
October 30, 2015, Tribal Economic Development Task Force meeting
The agenda for this meeting is quite short. I really hope to hear more in this meeting about possibilities of industrial hemp as an economic development tool for the tribes. Here is the full agenda:
10:00 a.m. Call to Order; Approval of Minutes – September 28, 2015 meeting Determination of Quorum Chair’s Remarks
On Friday, Oct 16, the River Basin Natural Resource District Oversight Advisory Task Force will hold a second meeting in Pierre. The first meeting was held on August 13, just a day after I spoke with task force member Sen Jason Frerichs.
Recommend how to divide each district into three subdistricts of nearly equal size of population;
Recommend a procedure by which initial terms of a district council shall be staggered;
Help establish a pilot water management plan for the Red River and Minnesota River Natural Resource District.
After 2015 the task force will have the following tasks:
Establish guidelines to be used by districts for developing a water management plan;
Review Chapter 46-10A and determine what provisions need to be included in the future law governing river basin districts.
It will be the review of Chapter 46-10A that will be important to watch. Any legislation giving power to the river basin districts will come from that review. It was noted in the meeting that the districts will eventually need regulatory and taxing authority. That makes some of us weary this may be a huge increase in state power to be used against land owners.
Senate Bill 2, as enacted by the 2015 Legislature, provided for the creation of River Basin Natural Resource Districts. This task force has been tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of these districts. At this meeting the task force will be discussing the establishment of district boundaries and subdistrict boundaries and the process to elect council members from each subdistrict. The task force will also be discussing the process to develop a pilot water management plan for a district.
Presumably there will be proposed district boundaries ready for this meeting. If I am able to get out of the office tomorrow I might make the trip to Pierre and attend the meeting. This task force is probably a lot more important than many realize.
This year during the Brown County Fair I took some time to speak with a number of legislators. Today’s post will focus on the conversation I had with Democrat District 1 State Senator Jason Frerichs. Yes, I am way behind on these posts, this conversation took place on August 12, 2015. Like most of these posts from the Brown County Fair this is just a brief chat I had with Frerichs. It was not meant to be a true interview or in-depth report. Most of the conversation revolved around water management and this post will reflect that. Also, since this is a post to pass information on to voters I will keep editorializing to a minimum.
To begin with I asked how Frerichs thought the 2015 legislative session went. He called this session non-typical because so much of the session was focused around the transportation bill (SB 1 – SoDakLiberty Posts). The rest of the summer studies from 2014 he felt was pushed off until the end of session; instead of at the beginning of session as is with most studies.
In particular Frerichs felt the work done by the 2014 Watershed Task Force flew under the radar until the end of the 2015 session. Frerichs was a member of that task force. One of the bills they passed was SB 2 (SoDakLiberty Posts), which established the framework for river basin natural resource districts. SB2 became law on July 1. So at this point Frerichs said the River Basin Natural Resource District Oversight Advisory Task Force (which he is a member of) is focused on how to create sub-districts for some of the very large water districts. Over in Frerichs area there will be a pilot program setup in the Red and Minnesota River Districts. Frerichs said the short-term goal is to get the districts setup and the framework laid out so local government entities can see how the districts will operate and look like. Going forward Frerichs noted that watershed districts are how things will look and will have continuous legislative oversight.
I asked Frerichs what his actual goal is with the water resource districts. At its core, Frerichs says he hopes the districts can accomplish coordinating efforts between various stakeholders. He noted the districts are not setup in accordance with any political boundaries. Instead they are being setup in a way that local governments, communities, and neighbors can come together and mange water resources. At the same time the districts will allow resource management to be looked at from a statewide aspect. Frerichs also wanted to convey that he doesn’t see this as a growth in government, which many people such as myself have called it. Instead he sees this as an opportunity to trim back and remove “excess layers that already exist.” Frerichs believes the new districts will allow better coordination between the various stakeholders directly.
Additionally he noted that within a district there are ways that will allow districts to manage water to better utilize the water resources available. While water quality is an issue, he doesn’t think it is comparable to what the EPA does. Instead he gave an example of the Big Sioux District. Perhaps if there is too much water being held at the north end of the river it can be utilized for irrigation further down the river. The districts would allow for such coordination. Frerichs sees the district as a way for landowners and other stakeholders to come together and find better ways to utilize the water resources, and also make sure quality is upheld to allow for recreational use.
I did ask Frerichs about the whole series of issues that have come up with meandered and non-meandered waters; and if these districts would somehow tie into that (after all the court cases are done I expect that to be a huge issue in the legislature.) Frerichs doesn’t think the fights about the meandered and non-meandered will be directly impacted by the water districts. He noted that these fights have garnered heightened emotions between those fighting for properties rights and those fighting for water access rights. Frerichs does think the water districts could help alleviate some of the issues with non-meandered waters because some of the excess water can be managed. There are some of the solutions he says are obvious such as drainage and irrigation. But he also noted there may be some recreational opportunities that could be managed such as creating new reservoirs or fishing areas.
Since speaking with Frerichs the River Basin Natural Resource District Oversight Advisory Task Force has had a meeting (and likely sub-committee meetings). The documents from that first meeting can be viewed here. I expect water management issues will continue to be a focus for Senator Jason Frerichs and I plan to follow the progress of the water districts on this blog.
On March 26, 2015, the Brown County Democrats held their monthly meeting at the Eagles club in Aberdeen. Sen Jason Frerichs (D, Dist 1), Rep Steven McCleerey (D, Dist 1), and Rep Dennis Feickert (D, Dist 1) were all guest speakers to give their perspective about how the SD 2015 legislative session went. In this post I’ll pull out some of the highlights of what they each had to say (and keep my editorial comments to a minimum)
Frerichs was the first legislator to speak. He opened up by noting that the Senate Democrat caucus actually gained one member in 2015. Along those lines he noted it would have been nice to keep Chuck Welke in the Senate, but he was defeated last fall by Sen Brock Greenfield (R, Dist 2). He noted that each additional person in the Senate gives the Democrat caucus a little more power, but they need to work on getting at least a third of the Senate to make any real headway. I would agree, in 2016 the Democrats should work hard on getting twelve seats in the Senate if they truly want to have any impact in Pierre.
When talking about this session, Frerichs noted a big theme of this session was that big issues were being avoided. The issues he brought up that were ignored this year include Medicaid Expansion, teacher pay, and teacher recruitment. He believes those issues were “brought up, and placed on top, and placed to the side. And that is unfortunate.”
When talking about the roads bill SB 1 Frerichs noted that the Governor wanted the roads bill and “wants it bad”. He noted the first time going through the Senate he voted no to SB1 quite easily because it really didn’t do much for local governments. Frerichs noted that the conference committee for the bill was one of the worst he has ever seen in Pierre (and I would agree). He noted the bill kept getting delayed during the conference committee process and that the House was holding it up. From his perspective it wasn’t even a Republican vs Democrat issue. It was purely the House trying to control the bill. On the Senate side he noted the Democrats were being lobbied hard to vote for SB1, because they were a couple of votes short in the Republican caucus. Frerichs said that was a good opportunity for the Democrats to push for more local money. The final bill he felt was more “leveled out” so he voted for it the second time. (My summary of what is in SB 1 can be read here).
Frerichs then went on to talk about the water management bills SB 2 and SB 3. Both of these are bills he worked hard on to get passed and will continue to work with going forward. SB 2 creates nine river basin natural resource districts. He also mentioned it creates a pilot project in his area of the state and has a legislative oversight taskforce. He believes there will be a lot of work implementing SB2. He noted that the districts will be a work in progress. When talking about the districts he doesn’t think they will solve all of the water problems; but he does think the program will get the state down the right path of managing the water in the river basins. He said “we shouldn’t just sit back and let mother nature rule us.” That was an interesting segway into his next point. He noted the legislature also passed legislation providing funding for the pine beetle situation west river (SB 152). He noted that west river is fighting to save their property and their economy from a mother nature problem. Further, he finished that thought by saying “This is our pine beetle problem of the east”.
McCleerey said if he had to sum up the session in one word it would be “frustrating”. He believes there is a lack of leadership “coming from the other side” and coming from the Governor’s office. He believes that is an unfortunate situation for the people of South Dakota. When talking about the youth minimum wage bill (SB 177) he felt the Governor should have used a veto. That seemed to tie into the lack of leadership points he made.
Briefly McCleerey mentioned something I have noted and plan to a post about in the future. He felt the time being put in while at Pierre is not sufficient. It was frustrating for him that session ended so early every day, and then on Friday they would be out of there at 1:30 pm.
McCleerey also took a few minutes to talk about the highway bill. He noted that when campaigning transportation funding was one of his top issues. But he was hesitant to vote for the bill because it was a such a “poor bill from the start”. The addition of the interstate top speed of 80 mph made the bill even worse for him. He did vote yes to the bill in the end.
Looking to the future McCleerey stated he believes the 2016 legislative session will be about Medicaid expansion and education funding. After that he believes the next two session will be about the Governors race. He doesn’t believe anything substantial will be done in 2017 and 2018 from his perspective. (I agree with him on these points, I would say the run for Governor in 2018 has already started, but that is a topic for a different post).
Talking about bills before the Health & Human Service’s committee, McCleerey mentioned HB 1080. HB 1080 allows investigational treatments to be used by patients under certain conditions. He was happy to the bill passed so it could help people out.
McCleerey was disappointed to see the tanning bed prohibition for minors (HB 1166) was not passed. He says cancer is increasing at an extreme rate. He says the bill was stopped by “small business libertarian types”. He felt it was almost embarrassing that the bill could not be passed, even though it had been amended many times to work out the differences. He felt it was wrong to choose between cancer and small businesses. Going further, he noted that a bill was passed to allow the use of a chemo therapy pill to treat cancer (SB 101) but the legislature couldn’t pass a bill to prevent cancer.
At the end of his time McCleerey noted the Republicans “are a split party”. He hopes the Democrats can capitalize on the split that is evident in the SD Republican party.
Feickert began by saying it was a disappointing how few bills the transportation committee actually took up this year. He noted that many of the bills that went before Transportation dealt more with updating the dates referenced in law. He was truly disappointed in SB 1 because there was discussion about where the road funding bill should go. Due to politics, he said that there was a push to get the transportation funding bill taken out of Transportation and put into State Affairs. The committee actually voted to keep the bill in Transportation. Then the next day it voted on the House floor to force the bill out of Transportation and into State Affairs. He said from that point on the massive transportation bill really didn’t have any involvement from the Transportation committee. (This is another issue that deserves a separate post, Feickert has a good point about the politics of this bill).
When going into specifics about SB 1, Feickert noted he was not happy with the tiered property tax portion of the bill. He said this new method of funding roads is “worse than an opt-out”. He believes the tiers are going to hurt big population counties. When it comes to property tax funding he felt the Governor’s original proposal was much better, but that was changed on the Senate floor.
Feickert also felt it was bad that the bill asking for a study on taxing agricultural land by its actual use was not passed (SB 4). He felt the study would have been able to show what the impact would be if a production-based property tax was implemented. Many opponents of the bill said it would negatively impact school funding. Feickert said the study should have been approved so it could be determined if that was true. Along the same lines he mention the bill that would have created a new leased residential property classification (SB 100). SB 100 was vetoed by the Governor. He feels the same arguments for SB 100 should have been used for SB 4. But at the same time he questioned whether landords would actually have passed savings on to renters if SB 100 had been implemented and a new lower tax levy was created for it.
Overall I would say all three legislators tried to make the case that it is hard to serve in a party that is in a super-minority. But all three noted that division within the Republican party does allow for them to have power at certain times. If they can get more numbers in the 2016 election it might open a new door for Democrats. (That is a BIG IF at this point).