Things stayed interesting during Week 10 of the 2019 Legislative Session.
Gov. Noem requested extensive amendments to House Bill 1191, the hemp bill, and the Senate accepted most of them. She still vetoed the bill just a few hours after the House concurred with Senate amendments. The governor claims that the state is unprepared to enforce the law, but we need a law and the ability to enforce it, whether or not it's legalized in South Dakota. Forty-three states including North Dakota and Montana have already legalized hemp and the Native American reservations can also grow it.
Hemp and hemp products will inevitably be transported on our highways and law enforcement must deal with them whether we pass a law or not. I have supported HB 1191 in all stages of enactment and found the governor's arguments unconvincing. I voted with the House to override the veto, but the Senate could only muster 20 yea votes, so they sustained the veto.
Unfortunately, the Senate resuscitated and passed HB 1087, the "intellectual diversity" bill, after it had been killed a couple weeks ago. I remain convinced that it is unnecessary and unwarranted interference with the authority of the Board of Regents and university administrators. However, certain poorly-informed others don't seem to understand that problems in other places are unlikely to arise here. I spoke briefly against the bill again, knowing that was probably a futile effort. The bill passed.
We also received information about the final budget and approved it at about 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. I am pleased to report that nursing homes are receiving an increase of 10 percent and community service providers (such as SESDAC in Vermillion) are slated for a 6.5 percent funding increase. Elementary and secondary teachers and state employees are getting the 2.5 percent increase that the governor proposed in her budget address. These are ongoing – as opposed to one-time – spending. That doesn't mean the high increases will happen in future years, but at least future increases are calculated from higher bases.
These are some of the highest increases in my seven years in the Legislature and it appears they come about because of changes in budgeting procedures and more realistic projections. They still aren't enough, but they help avoid closings that otherwise might have been inevitable. This relatively good news notwithstanding, I still believe that South Dakota's policy makers must take a longer-term view of state and local governments' continued great need for resources.
We will still be among the lowest states in reimbursement for employees of nursing homes and community support providers. The resulting workforce turnover leaves many of our most vulnerable citizens with uncertain and unstable life situations. We can and should do better, but only if we are willing to take a broader view of the current situation and what is possible.
Adopting the general fund budget is always the last act of the Legislature except for dealing with vetoes. If Gov. Noem vetoes any more bills (at this writing she has not), we will return to Pierre on March 29, "veto day."
Thank you for wading through these columns each week and for supportive comments about them. Please feel free to contact me with your concerns.
High school students, you can come to the State Capitol, write legislation, meet in committees where you hear public testimony from legislators and volunteers, then take part in a mock legislative session in the Capitol. YELL (Young Elected Legislative Leaders) weekend is April 5 – 6. There is no cost for travel, lodging, or food, and you get to meet students from across the state. You can get more information at https://sddp.org/event/yell-2019/.
In these reports I discuss the bills that I think are most important and interesting to my constituents. If you have other concerns, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, Ray.Ring@sdlegislature.gov, or 605-675-9379 (my cell). I can't respond to everyone, but I do give priority to residents of District 17 (Clay and Turner counties).