We are in the final three weeks of the legislative session, with “crossover day” on Thursday for all non-appropriations bills. This is the day for bills to be voted on in the house of origin and cross over to the other chamber. Appropriations bills, other than the state’s general budget, must be voted on in the house of origin by next Wednesday, March 1.
Members of the Appropriations Committee continue to watch ag markets as they work on revenue projections for the FY18 state budget. For the fiscal year which begins on July 1, they are projecting general fund revenues at $1.59 billion. The general fund accounts for slightly over a third of all state spending, with federal funds making up approximately the same amount. Other funds, such as user fees, account for the remaining state budget.
A number of special appropriations bills were killed last week, as legislators focus on paying for “needs” rather than “wants.” Among these was the bill to appropriate $2.5 million for a new state park in Spearfish Canyon.
This past week, legislators heard testimony on two bills dealing with “adverse possession” of property. This is a very longstanding provision of law, and legislators were reluctant to meddle with it this year, until they better understood what effect a legislative change might have. Both bills were killed, with the understanding that an ad hoc task force will dig further into the issue this summer and determine if our state laws need to be changed.
The Governor’s buffer strip bill, SB66, passed the Senate 34-0 and had a hearing last week in House Taxation committee. A slate of diverse proponents testified in favor of the bill – ranging from the Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League, and Dakota Rural Action to a variety of agricultural groups. The bill easily passed committee on a 14-0 vote. Another bill dealing with ag land taxes, SB142, was originally introduced to require agricultural land to be assessed on its actual use. The bill was amended by the Senate Tax Committee to require SDSU to provide status updates on its research project on soil productivity.
The Senate Transportation committee killed a bill that would have allowed farm vehicles up to 18 feet wide to operate on state highways at night. The average lane width on a state highway is 12 feet; the average lane width on a county road is ten feet. The bill was opposed by safety and agricultural groups. The committee also tabled a bill that would have directed the Transportation Commission to spend up to $2 million per year from the state highway fund to take care of small bridges and culverts on township roads.
The Senate Commerce committee, on a 5-3 vote, approved a bill to require retailers in the state to provide country of origin labeling for beef. Proponents say that consumers have a right to know where their beef was born and raised. Opponents, including agricultural groups, retail groups, and the SD Department of Agriculture, contend the law is unconstitutional and unenforceable, and that consumers already have access to source-verified beef.