We are finished with the main run of the 91st Legislative Session. Teacher pay along with education funding dominated our entire session, but we also had many other important issues that were advanced for the betterment of our fellow South Dakotans. Unfortunately we will have to be patient until sometime this summer or fall to finalize Medicaid Expansion coupled with increased federal reimbursement of Indian Health Services care.
First off, I want to thank my good friend and mentor Senator Jim Peterson from Revillo for his fourteen years of service in the Legislature. Jim is a fellow farmer who always has rural South Dakota first and foremost and is the definition of a statesman. He plans to close out his legislative career, but I am sure we will be able to get him to help out in the future on agriculture, transportation and taxation issues. Senator Peterson was successful in passing SB 136 to allow for non-cropland status of grass buffer strips around streams, rivers and lakes. This will be a voluntary program that pays dividends for respect among those who question crop farming’s impact to water quality along with more habitat areas for wildlife.
Townships and counties fared well this Session with various pieces of legislation to send more tax dollars back to those local governments. I am especially proud of HB 1137 which will direct roughly $1 million of additional farm truck vehicle registration fees to township governments. Currently that money was going to the biggest cities in our State and those cities often have truck routes keeping truck traffic to the state highways. Our hope and plan is that this new money for townships can be used as leverage for more state road fund investments in small bridge structures. Often the small bridges present a safety concern in rural areas along with a logistical problem when trucks need to harvest the crops. I will continue to work with the transportation commission and the township association to see that new program come to fruition.
There appears to be solid respect for the needs of production agriculture in our state legislature. Unfortunately some lobbyists who claim to represent agriculture based groups have successfully stone-walled actual use native grass legislation for taxation on agriculture land. Even more disappointing are these agriculture lobbyists who were willing to give up another half percent of machinery excise tax in trade for a pennies’ per acre worth of property tax relief. I worked hard to try to remove the machinery tax increase that only helps to give tax breaks to property owners of which 38% are absentee landowners. The machinery tax is a huge burden on the entry to production agriculture for young and beginning farmers/ranchers.
Prenatal care for all residents of South Dakota was a huge win with the passage of HB 1110. I want to than my good friend Senator Bernie Hunhoff for his tireless leadership on this issue because often a few dollars’ worth of care before babies are born can pay dividends after the baby is born. Unfortunately some of my colleagues in the past have blocked this legislation on shallow grounds thinking that non-citizens living in South Dakota don’t deserve prenatal care.
The Governor’s plan for increased teacher pay and education funding came in a series of bills. Two of the bills were the most important: HB 1182 is the half percent increase in sales tax dedicated to teacher salaries and SB 131 changes the education funding formula carrying out the increased funding procedure. We passed SB 131 in the Senate before voting on HB 1182. I voted for both bills and am glad we were able to make changes to SB 131 before sending it to the House. In the House Appropriations Committee they changed the ratio for small schools from 12.5 down to 12 students per teacher. This was an important change and needed for our small schools. Unfortunately the changes didn’t stop there. On the House floor various amendments were applied to SB 131. One of the most significant was an amendment to delete the forgiveness to school districts with declining enrollment. Just in my legislative district there are four schools that lost a total of more than $287,360. This was a bad amendment and that is why I voted to send SB 131 to conference committee so that we could fix the bill. Unfortunately that motion failed by two votes in the Senate. In the end after the House changes, I didn’t vote for SB 131 because it gives signals of forced consolidation and had a direct effect of decreasing funding to schools that need the support the most when they are facing declining enrollments.
Lastly I am proud to report that we were able to give favorable support to HB 1146 which allows the Governor to enter into agreements with Native American tribes for an alternative to the GED test. This is good news because moving up in the skill level of various jobs requires our friends and neighbors to have a high school degree or the equivalent to a GED. Hopefully by giving people an alternative we may encourage them to further their education as well.
I want to thank you for the privilege to represent the far northeast part of South Dakota in the State Senate. I realize some of you may disagree with my position on various issues but I have made every attempt to be respectful of your thoughts and opinions. Please keep in touch on meetings and issues that are important to you. I can be reached at 949-2204 or firstname.lastname@example.org and jasonfrerichs.com.