The main run of the 2016 legislature session has come to an end. I am grateful and humbled for the opportunity you’ve given me to represent you in Pierre.
As I reflect back over the full 2016 session, I have mixed emotions.
I worked hard to pass a common-sense bill that would protect the bodily privacy of our school-age children when they need to undress and change clothes in locker rooms, and when they are naked taking showers. The bill passed every legislative hurdle except for the last one: Governor Dennis Daugaard signing it into law.
Governor Daugaard’s veto was a tough pill to swallow. Members of the House gave it more than enough support to override the veto, but in the Senate we were four votes short of the two-thirds necessary to override it. Therefore, it died.
I worked equally hard on two other issues that had great success: reforming South Dakota’s education system, and saving the lives of unborn babies.
Education reform dominated nearly every aspect of our work. Last week the governor signed into law measures that revolutionize how we fund education and how we attract, train, and retain our teachers.
I’ve written about the funding aspect before. Instead of paying schools based on a per-student basis, the new formula will pay schools $48,500 per teacher, based on a student-to-teacher ratio. The formula is challenging to small schools because it doesn’t fully fund all the small school teaching positions, while it funds many of the large schools for additional teaching positions that don’t exist.
For example, Watertown receives funding for nearly 20 teaching positions that don’t exist. However, Milbank receives no funding for five of its current teachers. Many other smaller schools face the same issue.
The saving grace for our small schools under the new formula is the expanded latitude to use up to 45 percent of Capital Outlay (CO) funds for any expense, including teacher and support staff salaries. Traditionally, CO funds have been used for building construction and repair, purchase of buses and other capital expenses. Under the new formula, that latitude expands to use up to 45 percent of the CO for any General Fund expense.
During floor debate, an amendment was offered to reduce the 45 percent flexibility to 25 percent. I argued strongly against the amendment as being bad for small schools. Gratefully, I was supported by enough House legislators to defeat the amendment.
Another challenge for some districts under the new formula is the equalization of other revenues. In our legislative district, wind-farm revenue is particularly important to several of our schools. Thankfully, Senator Jason Frerichs was successful in offering a friendly small-school amendment during the Senate debate that placed newly constructed wind-farm revenue for schools outside the funding formula for five years.
There is sweetness in the success of the education funding bill because I spent many years as a school board member to improve education for our children. There is still much work to be done, but now we have given the schools the necessary tools to allow them to compete in the marketplace of teachers.
Last week the legislature approved a bill that will help students from low-income families to attend private schools, such as St. Lawrence Catholic School in Milbank and Volga Christian School in Volga. The bill gives insurance companies an 80-percent tax credit if they donate money to a private school’s scholarship fund. Furthermore, the tax credit goes up to a maximum of $2.5 million in scholarships. A legislative fiscal analysis found the bill to be revenue neutral to the state. If signed into law by Governor Daugaard, students from low-income families who want to attend private schools may apply for scholarship money.
Last summer I met with three pro-life South Dakotans to begin work on writing bills that we believed important to our born and unborn citizens:
1) Prohibit abortions after an unborn baby is capable of feeling pain
2) Require abortionists to inform pregnant mothers who are seeking first-trimester abortions that in the event they change their minds after taking the first of two abortion causing drugs, it may still be possible to save the lives of their unborn babies
3) Make it a felony to transact human fetal body parts from abortions
4) Require the Department of Health to make public on its website the results of its annual abortion clinic inspections.
Each bill successfully made it through the legislative process and, to date, each bill except for the informed-consent bill, has been signed into law by Governor Daugaard. I am hopeful that he will sign the informed-consent bill soon.
The pain-capable bill is likely the most important of the four. We modeled it after the federal Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which has become law in 12 other states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
The law protects 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.
If the governor calls a special session to address Medicaid expansion, I will follow-up with another column. If not, this will likely be the last one I write until next year, providing you send me back to Pierre.
Given that this year will bring to an end my first two-year term, I humbly ask for your consideration in returning me to the South Dakota Legislature in the November election. Between now and then, please look for me at summer parades or knocking at your door. I look forward to talking with you wherever we meet. Lastly, I welcome everyone to read news on my personal website,DrFredsPlace.com.
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 at email@example.com.