Legislature passes halfway point

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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agricultural groups over the past few months is a project brought forward by SDSU to replace facilities that are badly out-of-date, renovate the Berg Agricultural Hall, and build a new “Precision Agriculture Center” to provide a place for SDSU’s research and teaching in precision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 sdlegislature.gov. You are also encouraged to email me at Mary.Duvall@sdlegislature.gov.

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

Legislature enters week 5

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Last Friday the House ended their work week by spending nearly an hour debating a bill dealing with the death penalty.  Right now a person convicted of a capital offense can be found not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty, or guilty but mentally ill.  If a person is found guilty by reason of insanity, they are hospitalized.  Those found guilty or guilty but mentally ill can be sentenced to life in prison or executed.

The law currently prohibits juveniles from being executed; the law also prohibits intellectually disabled from being executed.  HB 1123 would add those with “severe mental illness” from being executed.  The definition of “severe mental illness” refers to a substantial disorder which significantly impairs judgment, behavior, or ability to cope with the basic demands of life.  In these cases, the guilty person would face life in prison.

An amendment was added to specify that the severe mental illness must have manifested itself and been documented prior to the commission of the crime.  The bill passed 45-20 and will now be considered by the Senate.

On a much less emotional note, the House defeated a bill that sought to exempt those under 18 years of age doing less than $1,000 worth of sales in a year from having to collect and remit sales taxes.  According to the prime sponsor, the bill was being brought because lemonade stands were being shut down in Texas and other states for not remitting sales tax.  However, the SD Department of Revenue already exempts casual or occasional sales made by an individual who is not engaged in the business of selling at retail.  This means that kids in South Dakota can continue to have a lemonade stand or pumpkin patch and not have to keep track of whether or not they have made $1,000 worth of sales.

The House Transportation committee approved a bill that would permanently enact Daylight Savings Time in South Dakota, if the six states surrounding us also enact permanent Daylight Savings Time.  The committee also passed a bill that would change South Dakota from a five-year replacement schedule for license plates to a ten-year cycle.  There was some concern among committee members that ten years is too long a time frame because plates lose their reflectivity over time, making them hard to read.  However, the prime sponsor indicated that by doubling the time for plate replacements, it would allow for millions of dollars to go to local roads and bridges.

The House Local Government committee approved a bill allowing county commissions to permit tax breaks on riparian buffer strips in the county for a river, lake, or stream which is tributary to any of the water bodies approved last year for the tax break.  Any local option buffer strip would be assessed at 60 percent of its agricultural income value.

The deadline for introducing bills and joint resolutions was last Friday.  A total of 553 bills and joint resolutions were brought in this year, compared with 394 last year.  Bills have to pass the house of origin by the last Friday in February, meaning that committees will be busy the next three weeks as they sort through their bill log.