Last week, I joined the majority of House lawmakers to approve Governor Dennis Daugaard’s plan to raise the state sales tax from 4 percent to 4.5 percent. The measure boosts South Dakota’s lowest-in-the-nation teacher pay. Personally, it’s difficult for me to support a tax increase, but, in my estimation, the need is overwhelming and the alternative non-tax solutions were neither viable nor realistic to provide sustainable funding. In my assessment, if we don’t provide competitive, marketplace wages to our teachers, our children and whole state will suffer.
The measure took a heated and tortuous journey for House approval. Now the bill moves over to the Senate. I expect the votes will be just as close and the debate just as heated.
Last week, the Senate passed two other education reform bills from the governor and they will be coming to us in the House.
Senate Bill 131 establishes a new way to fund our schools. Instead of paying schools based on the number of students, the new formula will pay schools based on a target student-to-teacher ratio. The closer a school is to the target ratio, the more it will be paid up to a maximum of $48,500 per teacher, per year. The target ratio is on a sliding scale, based on school size.
Local schools will continue to control teacher contracts and teacher pay. For example, a school district may receive funding that averages $45,000 per teacher based on the formula. It is up to the local negotiations between schools and teachers to determine a salary schedule for teachers. That’s not changed. In the example, some may be paid more than $45,000, and others less.
The other education bill, Senate Bill 133, pertains to creating innovative education options for our school districts to consider, such as shared school district services provided by the state, shared services by school district employees, a classroom innovation grant program, educator mentoring and certification reciprocity. The Senate passed this 33-1.
Other Hot Topics
Medicaid Expansion – On Friday, February 26, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services notified state officials that they agree to the governor’s request to cover 100 percent of care for Native Americans at non-tribal healthcare facilities in order to free-up funds to expand Medicaid. The change in Native American coverage will provide an estimated $57 million for South Dakota that must be dedicated to Medicaid expansion. For this to move forward, both the legislature and the tribes must agree.
Legalizing Marijuana Oil – This bill would allow cannabidiol oil to be used in a medical setting to treat epileptic seizures. The Senate passed the bill 20-15 and now the bill heads to the House. My biggest concern with this bill is that it creates a slippery slope to legalize recreational marijuana. I will listen to the facts and the debate; then make my decision.
Soil Study – Both the House and the Senate voted to spend $175,000 for a soil productivity study. If signed into law by Governor Daugaard, the bill would update the data and methods used to determine agricultural land production capacity. I supported the bill in the House. Senator Peterson was the prime sponsor in the Senate.
Fetal Pain Abortion Standard – The Senate voted to approve a new fetal-pain standard for when abortions should be illegal in South Dakota. The legislation would protect unborn babies from abortions starting at 20 weeks post-fertilization, when they are capable of feeling pain. Current law sets the cut-off at 24 weeks. The bill recognizes that unborn children are human beings who deserve protection from pain. The legislation now goes to the state House of Representatives.
Meningococcal Vaccinations – This bill would add meningitis to the list of immunizations that children must have to enter school, unless exempt via certification from a physician or a religious exemption. The Senate passed it 23-10, and the House passed it 42-25. It is now on the governor’s desk. I voted against this bill because the annual incidence rate is very low, about four cases per year in a population of 125,000 school-age children. I don’t believe parents should be forced to immunize their children when incidence rates are so low.
Allowing Alcohol on College Campuses – This bill would allow the Board of Regents to oversee the sale of alcoholic beverages at certain events like athletic activities, performing arts events, or receptions. It passed out of the Senate 18-13 and now heads to the House. Though it’s a money-maker for the universities, I don’t believe we need to authorize alcohol on our campuses. I plan to vote no.
Dyslexia Screening – This bill would require school districts to offer screening and evidence-based intervention for each student who exhibits evidence of dyslexia. The Department of Education testified that schools already do this, but parents from across the state spoke loud and clear that there is a problem. In support of parents, I spoke strongly in committee and on the House floor. The Education Committee passed the bill 13-0, and the House passed it 61-6. It now goes to the Senate.
License Midwives for Home Births – Under this bill, midwives would be licensed to provide prenatal care and home deliveries for only low-risk pregnancies. I supported the bill in committee and on the House floor. The risk of complications for home births is slightly greater. However, I believe women should have the right to make that decision. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to serve you. Please keep in touch with me about the issues that are important to you. I can be reached on my cell phone at (605) 868-9010 and by email email@example.com.