By Jason | March 11, 2014
Spring is hopefully just around the corner which means we are wrapping up the 2014 Legislative Session. Medicaid Expansion has dominated this Session because it has the biggest economic impact on our State. A $272 million dollar infusion of federal cash to our State coupled with an average of $7 million in new ongoing tax revenue would help us tremendously in South Dakota. Even though the Federal officials at Health and Human Services have denied the request by Governor Daugaard to only expand Medicaid for those under 100% of poverty, we will continue to press the issue that full expansion logically makes the most sense. Roughly 26 states across the country have developed their own plan to expand Medicaid under the conditions of the Affordable Care Act. All of those states that have expanded included up to 138% of the poverty level. I am frustrated that the Governor has drawn a line in the sand that he only wants a portion of the 48,000 eligible for expansion to be covered. Other states have put in place job training and wellness requirements that might be feasible here in South Dakota if the Governor wants further expectations for new Medicaid eligible individuals. Let me also make this clear: those currently eligible for Medicaid expansion are receiving health care, however they are not covered by health insurance in any fashion. Let me also remind you, if the Medicaid expansion funding would be anything like the very beneficial Lewis and Clark water project; we would be clearing the path immediately to receive the federal investment. Even though Medicaid expansion is a tough sell, I am proud to see good health policies move forward that expand availability and ensures coverage for audiology services. Both chambers in the Capitol recognize the importance to these services to strive for early detection of the possible issues.
This week the State Senate gave final approval to a measure that will change the wheat check-off assessment fee. Currently every bushel of wheat sold has 1.5 cents per bushel fee collected for research and promotion that is refundable. With the changes in HB 1081 the new assessment will be four tenths of a percent on the net price of wheat sold. This will result in roughly double the amount of revenue collected to fund programs at our land grant university, SDSU. Even though the wheat check-off is refundable one difference is that the Wheat Commission is appointed by the Governor, unlike the corn check-off board who are elected.
Our Senate agriculture committee had discussion this past week on HB 1208 which was a bill that would have put in place a buffer zone around building and livestock when people are out on the non-meandered/new bodies of water. After some lawyers and others analyzed the bill, they were worried about the potential unintended consequences to the bill if it would be passed in answering the question of public access to these private lands that are inundated with water. The GF&P admits that they don’t have solid direction in current law to guide their conservation officers in the field and states attorney’s when determining possible trespassing. I enjoyed seeing a good group of landowners from Day and Marshall County who made the trip to Pierre to express their concern with the bill and commit to working on this in the near future.
Farm sticker legislation has worked its way through the legislature the last couple of years. These changes are due to federal requirements through Map 21. Fortunately farm operations are given some flexibility with the new requirements. The farm sticker will be available at the county Treasurer’s office and this will allow farm trucks to travel within 150 miles into neighboring states along with no requirement for annual vehicle inspections. Even though the annual inspections wouldn’t be required, it still would be highly advisable and just good practice.
By Jason | March 11, 2014
Waterlines may find a challenge keeping up the flow underground these days in northeast South Dakota, but the flow of the lawmaking process continues in Pierre. HB 1185 the nonresident waterfowl license bill has received much debate during this legislative session. Ultimately a deal was reached between all of the parties involved including Wildlife Federation, Game Fish & Parks Department, tourism, and commercial hunting interests. Currently the bill will turn the management authority over to the GF&P wildlife division for all nonresident licenses including the temporary licenses and only allow a 5% increase each year on the number of these licenses to be offered. Thank you for all of the emails on this topic. Many of you are concerned about increased pressure since we live near the state border. I am confident that the current version of the bill will be respectful of hunting pressure but also allow the opportunity for many to enjoy the resource of record waterfowl populations.
Building South Dakota the Legislature’s economic development program approved last year continues to be an important issue as the Governor would like to limit the funding and many of us legislators want to see one time and excess reserve dollars flow to this program. Workforce education, local economic development, and housing are just a few of the areas that stand to benefit with steady funding through Building South Dakota. I agree with the Governor’s plan to put a 10% cap on reserves which will ensure fund transfers to Building South Dakota. Anytime we can prevent the stockpiling of tax dollars in Pierre is good for our local communities and all taxpayers.
Speaking of economic development, I am sure many of you have followed the issues revolving the EB-5 immigrant investor program. Fortunately as a Legislature we passed a resolution on a bipartisan basis to force our Government, Operations & Audit committee to address this important flawed program. March 7th we don’t have Legislative Session and the GOAC committee will hold a meeting to disseminate all of the pending information involving three audit reports, along with calling witnesses to testify on the history and actions of the EB-5 program. Stay tuned as we expect results and information from this upcoming meeting. Ultimately we want to ensure corrective actions are taken so that we can put this unfortunate issue behind us while holding the bad actors accountable.
Public access to flooded land continues to warrant legislative discussion. HB 1208 was passed by the House which would set a 660 foot buffer for activity around buildings/livestock on these flooded lands along with defining the difference between a meandered lake and non-meandered body of water. Various lawyers and some landowners have expressed concern over the bill and the possible effect on court actions dealing with this issue of public access. I welcome the input and have been sharing any information I receive with my fellow legislators. I certainly am not in a rush to approve legislation on this matter since we were able to successfully stop SB169 which had many concerns on this issue from both landowners and sportsmen.
Speaking of water but not entirely focused on the issue of public access to flooded lands, I introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 6. This is a resolution to express the Legislature’s support in efforts by citizens in the closed basin areas of northeast South Dakota to look for ways to manage the excess water problem. This past summer when our Watershed Taskforce visited Day County some folks simply asked that we as a Legislature reassure them that the State supports their efforts to find a possible overflow point on Bitter Lake while working with downstream neighbors. Irrigation is another opportunity for these affected landowners and I know some have submitted applications to utilize this water throughout Day County. If you find any difficulty in irrigation permits when pumping from a lake please let me know, because there are arbitrary GFP vested water rights that we need to continue to discover their effect on agriculture producers.
By Jason | February 24, 2014
Citizen involvement in the Legislative process reminds all of us Legislators that we truly represent a diverse group of roughly 23,000 people in our districts. This week true citizen involvement on the non-meandered water access bill, SB 169 proved crucial to stop what seemed like a freight train of a bill. Last week we strategically delayed action on the bill because I had a few amendments that I wanted the prime sponsors of the legislation and stakeholders to consider. Unfortunately the balanced amendments were not considered as “friendly” and the drivers on the bill planned to push it forward and pass the bill to the House of Representatives. Throughout the weekend and earlier this week many landowners communicated their opposition to the current version of SB 169, and when we got to the Senate floor on Tuesday, the prime sponsor tabled the bill. Now important work is needed to gather input from landowners affected by years of increasing water levels on sloughs/lakes, along with outdoors enthusiasts who want to be able to enjoy a resource such as fish in these relatively new bodies of water. Last year I heard much opposition from sportsmen unhappy with HB 1335 that was proposed and just about received full approval. This year with SB 169, the landowners were by far the most outspoken against the bill. If there is a possible resolution on the issue we will have to work on that over the summer. One starting point should be how we can determine adequate compensation if landowners would choose to participate in a “boat-in program” similar to the “walk-in program” that currently exists. I encourage you to let me know if you have an interest to continue to be a part of these possible discussions. Status quo will continue which means uncertainty exists on these flooded lands that are located near a right of way road/section line. Landowners must work out arrangements to allow access on private boat ramps, and some lakes still have a court ordered injunction.
Recently on the Senate Floor we had a disappointing experience where SB 162 was passed which gives a $300,000 per year tax break to the gold mine near Terry Peak. We have been told the company is trying to trim $100/ounce of costs and one area they are focusing on is the mineral severance taxes paid to the State General Fund. The price of gold has fluctuated in recent months but still remains at high levels. This bill passed by one vote only with last-second maneuvering by Senators on the other side of the aisle to change votes. We will attempt to reconsider the bill and try to defeat the attempt by a gold mining company to receive a tax break on a resource that is limited.
As Democrats we are crafting legislation that will look to provide tuition reimbursement for career and technical education teachers if they choose to teach in South Dakota after graduating from college. We also need to get a teacher training program revamped to assist those who leave the skilled workforce to retire early and want to inspire students to learn a trade for a good paying job.
We are still working through the details on the Governor’s plan to change the Building South Dakota Initiative which the Legislature crafted last year. Building South Dakota is an economic development law that provides funding to local economic development offices, affordable housing, and workforce education with a strong focus on career and technical education. The Governor would like to pre-fund Building South Dakota for three years instead of allow ongoing funding from the receipts of unclaimed property funds. The Governor claims through his plan education would receive more money. From what I see the only way the Governor sends more money to education is because his plan will be matched with local property taxes through the formula.
Please keep in touch on the issues important to you. We will deal with all of the bills that were introduced in their first chamber in the next few days and debate will continue on the bills that have already been cleared through the first few steps in the process. You can email me at email@example.com.
By Jason | February 19, 2014
While the weather finally warms up and brings much needed relief from the brutal cold temperatures; the legislative process is heating up as well. We are at the point in Session when all of the bills are introduced and more of the contentious issues come up for discussion. Some of those issues include public access to non-meandered water, direct shipment of wine, and expanding waterfowl licenses for nonresidents. Obviously in each of our committee meetings we will have other issues that draw passionate testimony from those in favor or against a particular bill.
Senate Bill 169 is the public access to non-meandered water legislation that has certainly created a buzz in northeast South Dakota. The land located in legislative District One is the most affected area by any change to State law involving the public use of these “new” water bodies. Currently SB 169 is still up for debate in the Senate Chamber and I am attempting to attach some amendments to soften the impact on affected landowners. Originally I signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation because I firmly believe we should look for a solution to this problem that has plagued our area for decades. Unfortunately the prime sponsor and various so-called stakeholders are reluctant to adjust the bill and make it more landowner friendly. Allowing vacating of roads in certain instances, prohibiting waterfowl hunting on non-meandered waters, protecting irrigating opportunities, and exploring ways to provide walk-in program compensation to affected landowners are a few of the changes I hope we can make to this bill. I appreciate all of the calls, emails, and personal visits from the folks in our district and others who would ultimately be dealing with a new State law. We have to be very careful in passing any legislation so that it doesn’t just simply codify status quo practices without any regard for the respect of landowners. I voted “No” on the bill in Senate State Affairs Committee and intend to oppose the bill unless we can get more landowner protections put in place.
Many of us were pleased to hear the results of a recent study commissioned by the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations where two professors from the University of Nebraska demonstrated the economic impact of Medicaid Expansion. Over the course of seven years of participation in the Medicaid coverage expansion our State treasury would benefit by $64 million of general fund tax revenue. The numbers speak for themselves and we would be foolish to deny the impact on our local communities along with the State to making sure all are covered by healthcare.
Our Senate Agriculture committee held very worthwhile testimony in support of Senate Bill 46 which will update the animal welfare statutes. The main component of the bill includes making it a felony penalty for the most extreme acts of animal cruelty and torture. Coupled directly with this legislation are sound ordinary and customary livestock production practices that we must maintain as options for our producers. The full Senate intends to hear and most likely continue to move the legislation dealing with animal cruelty.
Additionally in our Senate Agriculture committee we dealt with a change in how the wheat check off is assessed which includes an increase in the amount collected. The increase and change in assessment is to give more stability to the check off as we see wheat production adjust to the current cropping conditions and weather systems. South Dakota State University Agriculture Experiment Station plans to focus more on wheat research and designate more faculty members to focus on wheat with this increase in revenue.
Over the course of the next few weeks I expect fruitful debate on the issues mentioned above along with open government proposals, property tax issues, workforce development teacher initiatives, and the statewide texting ban.
Please keep in touch on the issues that are important to you.
By Jason | February 10, 2014
Greetings from your State Capitol.
Four weeks of the 2014 legislative session are completed and all of the proposed bills are entered in the process. We are quickly approaching the midway point of this Session. Committee hearings and the Senate floor have full calendars as we deal with the many issues which come before us. Shared parenting, animal cruelty, and transferring the National Guard armory in Webster are among the important issues we have been hearing in the Senate.
One specific bill of interest is Senate Bill 169 which deals with the public access to nonmeandered water and private property rights. This has been a work in progress ever since a year ago when all parties involved were challenged to come up with a solution to this lingering problem. Currently, when outdoors enthusiasts are on water they access from a public right of way, they are able to do their fishing. I expect some amendments to be offered which will alter the introduced bill and I will then decide whether to ultimately support the legislation. Please voice your concerns as we will be working on the committee portion of the bill very soon.
This week, recipients of the Governor’s Grants for Career & Technical Education were announced, and twelve school districts across South Dakota will be receiving a combined total of over $8.5 million through the program. There were two schools in the northeast corner of the state which received these awards. They include:
The Aberdeen School District which received$2 million for the construction of a new regional CTE facility.
Northeast Technical High School which was granted $150,000 to go toward middle school courses and dual credit ag courses.
The grants were made available through the South Dakota Future Fund, which was created by Gov. George S. Mickelson to invest in South Dakota’s workforce and build its economy. They are available on a one-time basis, so grant projects must be self-sustaining beyond this initial investment.
These grants will be used to develop new and improve existing CTE programs in the districts. This is something we are really pleased with, as we’ve been advocating the importance of CTE for many years. These grants, along with allowing CTE courses to be substituted or taken in conjunction with foreign language courses to meet SD Opportunity Scholarship requirements, are a step in the right direction. Our students are our future, and CTE classes will help them graduate high school ready for college, a career, and life.
The benefits of Career & Technical Education programs are clear. Nationwide, the average high school graduation rate for students concentrating in CTE programs is 90.18 percent compared to an average national freshman graduation rate of 74.9 percent, as most recently reported by US Department of Education. Furthermore, CTE is great for workforce development. Experts project 47 million job openings in the decade ending 2018. About one-third will require an associate’s degree or certificate, and nearly all will require real-world skills that can be mastered through CTE, be it an agricultural education, FACS, business, construction, computer and technology sciences, or one of many other areas branched under the 16 Career Clusters.
We were able to meet some of the student leaders of SD Career & Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) this week as they had a training and Shadow Day at the Capitol. These terrific students from programs across the state remind us of the potential of CTE and our goal must be to reach even more students through these outstanding programs.
By Jason | February 10, 2014
Greetings from your State Capitol where we are in the final days to introduce legislation for this 2014 Legislative Session. Workforce development is an important issue for all of South Dakota. All levels of education should continue to place a strong focus on preparing our students to enter the workforce whenever they complete their studies. This year the Governor is partnering with the Legislative Branch to enhance our job training efforts. Focusing on career and technical education opportunities for high schools in a region or the technical school equipment needs are good first steps and we will work with the Governor to expand skills training for students. Public access to new bodies of water will be debated again this year in the Legislature. Roughly a dozen drafts of possible legislation have been updated to give us a bill that will be introduced on the topic of non-meandered water bodies. The current version of the bill includes provisions that “new” lakes of 40 acres in size and smaller could be posted by the landowner at the public access along with a 660 foot buffer for all recreational activity on any body of water. This compromise proposal will most likely be amended through the process. Capital outlay funds for school districts continue to be an issue that encourages healthy discussion. During my time in the legislature I have continually opposed efforts to expand the scope of capital outlay and we have now reached a point where the purpose of capital outlay has been lost. The school physical plant, along with necessary hardware/technology expenses are the traditionally eligible capital outlay expenses. Most recently general fund expenses such as fuel and insurance have been qualified to utilize capital outlay property tax revenue. School districts who participate in the expanded capital outlay program are not allowed to increase their capital outlay mill levy; however most capital outlay funds have directly benefited when agriculture land has increased in valuation by 17% across the State. If a school district has an increase in property tax assessed value and yet doesn’t lower the mill levy they will receive more property tax revenue.
By Jason | January 28, 2014
January 16, 2014
We are moving along with the start of the 2014 Legislative Session, much like the wind that impacts our area. This is my sixth Session serving as a legislator representing the people in northeast South Dakota. I am honored to represent your interests on the Agriculture and State Affairs Committees.
Many of you probably have heard about the unclaimed property fund dollars that most recently have given a strong boost to our financial situation in State Government. These funds are from banks that can’t locate the owner of those assets and therefore remit the dollars to the State Treasury. This influx of cash has allowed the Governor to finally propose a 3% increase to K12 education funding and Medicaid providers. There is a direct connection to any effort to increase state aid to education will help lessen the burden on our local property taxes.
The Governor’s State of the State message focused on workforce and the important role technical education provides to enhance our job opportunities. I am refreshed to hear this recognition of how career and technical education trains our students to be job-ready upon graduation. The days of thinking that the only way to be successful is to have a four-year degree are behind us and now technical education is given the respect it deserves. I spent four years as a teacher in technical education and understand how we can ignite the ability of students to work in careers that pay well and are enjoyable.
Throughout this legislative session we will have discussion on issues such as bank franchise taxes, animal cruelty, non-meandering water access/property rights, and common core standards. Many of these issues spark enthusiastic debate from both sides, and we as legislators will need to make a judgment call to determine the best interests for our State.
One of the biggest issues that I expect to garner plenty of debate in this session is Medicaid expansion. The Federal Government will send $272 million a year for a modest $1 million from the State to authorize Medicaid expansion. Roughly 48,000 working South Dakotans would be covered by the expansion. The Governor stated in his message that we need to retain our medical school graduates and I completely agree. Authorizing Medicaid expansion those young physicians would be given the assurance that their patients will be covered for healthcare. If these were Federal highway dollars we would have already put them to work immediately, so let’s find a way to make Medicaid expansion happen.
Please keep in touch on the issues that are important to you and your family. I will plan to attend various cracker-barrel meetings in our region during the next couple of months. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Jason | March 4, 2013
Policy discussions are wrapping up in Pierre as we shift our focus towards approving a new State Budget in the final week of session. One of the final, but perhaps more important policy debates will take place centered on economic development. Prior to this legislative session and throughout the session I have worked closely with my Republican counterparts to craft a new approach to economic development. From my perspective three principles serve as a guide: identify a funding source, accountability/transparency, and upfront knowledge for new/expanding projects.
Voters this past November rejected the Governor’s Large Project Economic Development Plan which was Referred Law 14. This was House Bill 1230 in the 2011 Legislative Session and I didn’t support that concept because it diverted taxes paid on construction from all South Dakota projects to a “slush” fund. Recently I, as Democratic Leader in the Senate, and House Democratic Leader Representative Hunhoff were joined by our Republican leadership counterparts in both Chambers to announce the Building South Dakota Initiative. This new approach to economic development will use some additional funds from unclaimed property coupled with specific taxes paid by “new” projects to fund infrastructure, housing, local economic development, along with a strong focus on K12 education. Upfront knowledge is important for large projects and this initiative will allow the rebate of sales taxes paid based on discretion.
Rank and file South Dakotans exercised their right to determine which path we should travel on incentives for economic development. Throughout the time after the voter’s decision I have reached out to folks to gather input on how we can craft a “people’s approach” to economic development. During this entire legislative session I have solicited information from various interests along with fellow legislators to craft this economic development legislation.
I am thankful to the members of the legislature for giving unanimous support to HB 1180 which gives credit to returning veterans for their artisan trade. This will help to reduce the apprenticeship requirements and allow for a better transition to jobs back home.
Senate Bill 153 will streamline the establishment of watershed districts and itreceived unanimous support in House Judiciary committee and will now head to the fullHouse floor. This is important for our local watershed districts that are currently formed and will be formed in the future.
By Jason | March 4, 2013
We are on the home stretch for the 2013 Legislative Session. All of the bills are either approved or tabled from their house of origin. On the Senate side we have been hearing the House bills in our committees
House Bill 1135, the access to non-meandered waters legislation, was up for a hearing at step three in the five step process to become a law. Our Senate State Affairs Committee was asked by both sides of the issue along with the Governor’s Office to table the bill. Mutually the interested parties including lawyers, landowners, GF&P, sportsmen, and legislators have agreed to work diligently on this issue during the summer. Throughout this process which from my standpoint started about a year ago, I have continually been supportive on the intent of HB 1135. This issue originates from nine years ago when the Supreme Court issued its ruling along with declaring that the Legislature must make a decision on this access issue to non-meandered waters. I appreciate all of the communication from folks with a passion on either side of the issue, and I certainly am realistic that District One is the more affected than any of the thirty-four other legislative districts. As we move forward, one word describes my passion on this issue: RESPECT. The landowners affected by years of flooded lands deserve respect from wildlife enthusiasts. Please take an active role in providing ideas/feedback in developing a plan to determine access on these privately owned lands
Our Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee recently gave favorable approval to five different bills that enhance landowner protection in oil and gas mineral development. Some of the bills include a strengthened surface owner notification when a mineral right developer chooses to work on their land, along with a mediation program through the state Department of Agriculture.
Medicaid expansion is on the mind of many folks here in the capitol and across the State. Recently, a joint House/Senate Health Committee hearing was held to receive proponent and opponent testimony on Medicaid Expansion. South Dakota is one of just a handful of states who have yet to accept the federal investment for healthcare coverage. The folks who would qualify under Medicaid Expansion are hardworking individuals who may be working two part-time jobs. If this were federal highway funding, I guarantee you that we would be putting all of the dollars to use in our state treasury.
By Jason | February 15, 2013
Water is an emotional issue and it certainly has many folks from various backgrounds engaged and activated. In previous columns I have mentioned SB 153, SB 179, and HB 1135. At this point SB 153 and HB 1135 are alive and survived approval in their house of origin. I am very proud of the favorable support I received from the entire Senate to approve Senate Bill 153, which streamlines the process to establish watershed districts. One of the most important components of SB 153 is clarifying that an eligible voter is a landowner in these watershed districts. The bill will now be up for discussion in the House Judiciary committee. House Bill 1135 is the non-meandered water access legislation that has been elevated to the attention of many folks. I appreciate those who contact me to express their beliefs on either side of this issue. On the House side before it was approved by the entire House of Representatives they included some amendments to specifically identify that this bill is ONLY for non-meandered waters. As I mentioned last week the only intent on HB 1135 is to give private landowners the chance to post their property affected by non-meandered water. Meandered lakes such as Bitter and Waubay would not be affected by HB 1135. Senate Bill 179 brought many farmers to the Capitol this past week. This bill would have created a uniform permit for the 14 counties that operate with a drainage ordinance. One other component of SB 179 included the language that a professional engineer must sign off on these drainage permits. I heard from various folks both in support and against SB 179. The Senate Local Government committee tabled SB 179. This is a discussion that will continue immediately with our interim watershed advisory task force. I ask that any of you who are interested in water management that you follow this task force closely. I have served on this watershed task force and plan to continue to serve on the taskforce. On the Senate floor we debated SJR 2 which requires initiated tax increase measures by the people to receive a two-thirds majority vote, instead of current practice which is a simple majority. The main reason I didn’t support this proposed Constitutional Amendment is because in direct democracy through the initiative process the voters have the chance to impact the end result on a first-hand basis. In the Legislative process we operate as a representative democracy (each of us have a little more than 20,000 citizens we vote for on their behalf). Currently on the Legislative level for tax increases a two-thirds vote is required. I am pleased to announce that in our Senate State Affairs committee we defeated SB 197 which would have reduced the per student allocation for small schools who receive students through open enrollment from a large school district. Senate Bill 194 was debated and passed on the Senate Floor which extends the sunset to allow school districts to use a portion of their capital outlay for operating expenses. I have been consistent in my opposition to this legislation, because I feel this reduces the integrity of a capital improvement fund for our local school districts. Please let me know on the issues that are important to you. I will do my best to respond to emails and phone calls if you have questions when you leave a message.
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