Crossover Day looms

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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.

 

ADRDL discussions continue

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I have written before about the need to increase the biosafety features at the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Brookings, as well as address severe overcrowding of the lab.  For the past two years, I have been working with agricultural groups and other stakeholders, the administration, and other legislators to identify the need, define the cost, and find ways to pay for the upgrade and expansion.

Last year the Legislature appropriated $1.6 million to conduct an in-depth design study of the needs and costs for the lab project.  The engineering estimate came back late last summer.  After making adjustments to defer some parts of the project, as well as account for one-time money proposed by the Governor and SDSU, the remaining cost is pegged at $46.2 million.

Three bills have been introduced this Session dealing with the lab.

SB172 is the Governor’s bill, which we have been working on for the past several months.  It appropriates one-time money, identifies ongoing money, and outlines a menu of potential fees on animal owners to help pay for the ADRDL upgrade and expansion.  The fees outlined in the bill, and the amount of those fees, are all highly negotiable at this point.  Livestock groups continue to work with legislative leadership and the Appropriations Committee to put together a funding package that makes sense.  This bill has been assigned to the Joint Committee on Appropriations, but has not been scheduled for hearing.

HB1157 is a placeholder bill put in by leadership, to be used as a backup plan in case the governor’s proposal falls completely apart.  This bill has been assigned to House State Affairs committee.

SB162 is an alternative proposal brought in by Senator Stace Nelson and Representative Oren Lesmeister.  The original version of the bill would have taken $10 million from the Higher Education Facilities Fund (HEFF) and $40 million from the Revolving Economic Development and Initiative (REDI) Fund to pay for the lab.  After learning that HEFF monies could not be used for this purpose, the bill was hoghoused during a Joint Appropriations Committee hearing late last week to take $35 million from the REDI fund, plus dedicate ten percent of the excise tax collected on farm machinery sales.  Last year about $22 million in taxes were collected from farm machinery sales.  SB162 has been deferred to a later date by the committee.

When the ADRDL needed an upgrade and expansion in 1993, livestock leaders stepped up and developed a plan to help cover the cost.  At that time, they pushed to remove the sales tax exemption on paraciticides.  The livestock groups I have been working with are again indicating that they are willing to invest in this vital piece of infrastructure.  The questions are: what funding sources and how much?