Final two weeks are underway


We’re into the final two weeks of session, with legislators working four days this week and all five days next week.  Crossover day on Friday ended a little later than expected for the House because of a motion to form a special disciplinary committee to deal with accusations that one Rapid City lawmaker had verbally assaulted another Rapid City lawmaker.  The House on Monday disbanded the committee at the request of one of the legislators involved.

Nonetheless, both chambers did finish their work on all pieces of legislation introduced in their respective chambers, with the exception of appropriations bills which have a slightly different schedule to follow.

The focus of the final two weeks will revolve around the budget.  As well, we will be working on the key topics that seem to have arisen to the top of this session:  how to make sure the initiative and referendum process works for South Dakotans without undue influence from out-of-state interests, how to regulate and tax alcohol, and how to move forward with the Precision Agriculture project at SDSU.

A special legislative committee met this past summer to discuss our current initiative and referendum process and develop recommendations for ways to improve the integrity of the process.  The committee proposed ten bills; eight of them are still alive.  Individual legislators brought in ten additional bills dealing with initiatives and referenda; four of those are still alive as of the time this article was written. The legislation reflects an effort to ensure that Constitutional amendments are given careful consideration and that initiated measures reflect the interests of South Dakotans.

Bills dealing with alcohol regulation also reflect work that began last summer.  State laws governing alcohol have been cobbled together in piecemeal fashion over the years.  The Department of Revenue put together a task force to remove inconsistencies in current law.  Other bills deal with craft breweries, farm wineries, civic promotions, “sip-and-cycle,” and taxation.

The discussion on raising alcohol taxes was heard in House Taxation committee last Thursday.  What started out as a bill to increase the current rate of taxation was hoghoused into a bill to change the distribution of the alcohol tax.  Two years ago, the legislature changed the distribution of the alcohol beverage tax to give twenty-five percent to municipalities, twenty-five percent to counties, and half to the state.  HB1308 would give fifty percent to counties and twenty-five percent to the state.  Meanwhile, on Friday the Senate passed a bill which would redirect some of the municipal and county share of the alcohol beverage tax to pay for the proposed new Veteran’s Cemetery in Sioux Falls.

The Precision Agriculture bills received very favorable treatment last week, with the House voting 66-1 in favor of the concept.  We are now working to develop a funding package to pay for the project.  We are discussing breaking the project into two phases, with the first being to build the new classroom and laboratory building, and the second phase being the renovation of Berg Ag Hall.  This will reduce the immediate cost of the project and allow for continued efforts to find additional outside funding. We are also asking SDSU to look for internal dollars that could be directed to the project.


Legislature passes halfway point



The 2018 Session is past the halfway mark, and we are starting to drill down into the more contentious issues.  District 24 legislators will be available at a crackerbarrel on Friday morning in Onida and Saturday morning in Highmore to answer questions and discuss legislative issues.

One of the key drivers for any legislative session is the budget bill.  On Monday, members of the Appropriations committee received projected revenue estimates from both the Legislative Research Council staff and the Bureau of Finance and Management.  By having both the legislative branch and executive branch independently develop their revenue estimates, legislators have two sources of information for developing what we hope will be an accurate estimate.  One is based on economic forecasting and the other is based on historical analytics.

Both revenue projections are somewhat more optimistic than the Governor presented during his budget address in December.  Instead of showing lower-than-expected revenues, both indicated slight growth in the state’s income stream.  Keep in mind that these estimates are for the Fiscal Year which starts July 1 and runs through June 30, 2019 – sixteen months from now.  With agriculture as a key driver in the state’s economy, a drought year or continued low commodity prices could impact the actual numbers.

One of the issues I have been working on with agricultural groups over the past few months is a project brought forward by SDSU to replace facilities that are badly out-of-date, renovate the Berg Agricultural Hall, and build a new “Precision Agriculture Center” to provide a place for SDSU’s research and teaching in precision agriculture.  SDSU is the first university in the nation to offer a degree in Precision Agriculture, and several major corporate donors have stepped up to help with this project.

The Precision Agriculture center would incorporate plant science with agriculture and biosystems engineering to provide updated laboratory, class lab, and classroom space.  Speaking from experience, I can attest to the fact that the old Ag Engineering building on campus – the site of a very painful calculus class a number of years ago – really has served its time.

The original proposal for the Precision Agriculture project was estimated to cost $70 million but has been reduced to $55 million.  SDSU is proposing to use $7.5 million from internal funds, and $16.6 million in corporate donations.  That leaves a $30.9 million hole to fill.

SDSU leaders were in the Capitol last week to provide extensive details about the proposed project and answer questions from legislators and ag lobbyists.  An ad hoc work group will continue meeting to search for funding options to pay for the project.

You can follow the progress – or lack of progress – of the session on the Legislative Research Council website at You are also encouraged to email me at

I appreciate your comments and suggestions on these and other issues.