Sen. Art Rusch

The 2019 Legislative session is now over. The Senate finished up about 2 a.m. on Wednesday, March 13. This was a day earlier than expected but the weather reports indicated that by later in the day on Wednesday the roads would become impassible and everyone wanted to get home. It took a long day and far into the evening to finish up everything that had to be done.

The big issue which remained to be completed was the budget. Although the news media has talked about a $5 billion budget, the majority of that money is federal money and money from other sources over which the Legislature has very little control. Actually the Legislature made spending decisions on approximately $1.5 Billion. The Joint Appropriations Committee had been working on a budget all session long. They heard testimony from every agency and department of state government about their anticipated needs for Fiscal Year 2020.

However, early on there were some significant differences between what the Senate members of the Appropriations Committee wanted and what the House members wanted as to how the money should be spent. Eventually, as usually happens in Pierre, both sides compromised and neither the Senate nor the House got quite what they wanted. The budget passed the Senate 27 to 2 with 6 absent. The two who voted against it are senators who vote against nearly everything.

Among the spending which was passed was a 10 percent increase for nursing homes and a 6.5 percent increase for community support providers, both of which were far higher than they have received the past few years. The budget also provided 2.5 percent increases for K-12 Education and 2.5 percent for all state employees and the state agreed to continue paying the state employee’s insurance costs. Included in the budget figures were approximately $143 million for USD, $5 million for the USD Law School and $60 million for the USD Medical School.

In the budget I was pleased to see a beginning, $50,000 for Equal Access to our Courts, which provides legal services in civil cases for poor and indigent citizens. They also receive another $200,000 from “Other Funds” collected from court filing fees. I was most disappointed to see that the Legislature failed to fund the Dakotas Promise scholarships. South Dakota has been the only state in the country that doesn't provide some form of need based scholarships. I understood that this was the number one priority for the Board of Regents who believe that Dakotas Promise would provide a means for some student to begin or finish their education who wouldn't have been able to otherwise. The Senate passed this funding by a large margin but the House couldn’t muster the two-thirds vote necessary to approve this so the money was just left in the budget as unspent.

As of the last week the governor had vetoed just two bills. The one which received a lot of attention this week was her veto of the Industrial Hemp bill. The house voted to override her veto but the Senate effort mustered a majority but not the two-thirds necessary to override a veto.

Several bills were introduced this year to amend our South Dakota Constitution to change how the Legislature works. I brought one of those proposed constitutional amendments; my bill SJR1 (and a similar bill in the house, HJR1006) would have changed the terms of office for legislators from two year to four years. That proposal was killed in Senate State Affairs committee.

Late in the session we saw another bill which proposed a constitutional amendment to change the method of replacing state legislators who die or resign. Currently, under our constitution, the governor appoints a replacement. HJR1001 would have taken away that power from the governor and left it up to the Legislature to select some other method.

Among the methods discussed was having the replacement legislator picked by the county central committee of the political party to which the legislator belonged. Ultimately that proposed constitutional amendment was killed as well.

In addition, SJR3 was introduced which would have changed our judicial elections from non-partisan, which they are now, to political elections. I thought that was a really bad idea and was relieved when that proposal was also killed.


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