Sen. Art Rusch

According to the information which we received from the Legislative Research Council this week, there have been 460 bills introduced so far this year; 272 in the House and 188 in the Senate. There is starting to be action on many of the bills which were filed earlier. Two of the bills that I was the prime sponsor were in committee this week – one passed and one failed. SB71 which would forbid applying the death penalty to individuals who were severely mentally ill failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 4 to 3 vote. SCR6 which asks the president to make U.S. agricultural exports a priority of his negotiations with our trading partners to protect agriculture products from existing and future tariffs passed the Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously.

The various committees of which I am a member have been busy. In the Health and Human Services Committee, we considered SB118 dealing with the use of MOSTs in South Dakota. MOST stands for Medical Order for Scope of Treatment. A MOST is a medical order usually dealing with end of life issues that can be completed now. Since it is an actual medical order it is transferable from one medical facility to another where a patient may be transferred. This provides greater assurance that the patients wishes are complied with.

The other committee of which I am a member, the Senate Judiciary Committee, turned down several other bills this week that I would have liked to see pass. Judiciary turned down a proposal to allow convicted drug felons (it would generally apply only to women with families) to draw TANF (Temporary Aid for Needy Families) benefits. The estimates were that this might cost the state a total of $7,000 to $20,000 per year total. It seemed to me that once an individual has paid for their crimes by imprisonment, that we shouldn't continue to punish them by denying them these welfare benefits which might keep families together and might be an incentive not to reoffend.

The Judiciary Committee also sent two bills to the Appropriations Committee; one to continue the program that encourages attorneys to practice law in small communities and counties in the state and another which would appoint a task force to study whether South Dakota's heavy reliance on incarceration for drug ingestion offenses is the best way to handle what are mostly addicts. South Dakota is the only state in the nation which makes it a crime to ingest or possess drugs in one's system. There was no logical reason to send the bills to the Appropriations Committee other than the fact that one of the legislators on the Judiciary Committee was angry that one of his bills had been sent there.

The Appropriations Committee reported to use that they are continuing to hear from various state departments. Among the requests they heard this week were the Department of Health, $102 million; Correctional Health, $25 million; Department of Corrections, $114 million; Department of Human Services, $431 million and Board of Technical Education, $29 million.

The Legislature also received notification from the governor's office this week that she had vetoed her first bill, SB14, which was requested by the Public Utilities Commission to provide regulations for solar energy facilities. The governor indicated that one of the reasons for the veto was that she was opposed to any additional regulations. I don't see any likelihood that the veto will be overturned, and the PUC has indicated they are not going to fight the veto.

On Wednesday morning I was invited to have breakfast at the governor's mansion with a small group of other legislators. Gov. Noem was very interested in what issues we were pursuing in the Legislature and I talked to her about my "no secret settlements" bill which her office is supporting and about "chemical trespass" which is becoming a bigger issue across South Dakota.

We also had an extensive discussion about the future of industrial hemp in South Dakota. It seemed to be the consensus among the legislators at the breakfast that they had no problem with industrial hemp if it did not have high levels of THC, which is the chemical in marijuana which is psychoactive.

We also talked about the Native American Reconciliation Center which was built along the Missouri River north of Ft. Pierre several years ago. It was supposed to be a location for the various Native American Tribal Supreme Courts to meet and an office center. Today the building sits empty and there was discussion whether the state in conjunction with the tribes could make use of the building.

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