This seventh week of the 2019 Legislative Session saw several disappointments.
South Dakota health insurance companies recently found a loophole that they are using to deny coverage for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which can dramatically and cost-effectively improve the lives of children with autism. Despite compelling testimony by many parents and others involved, the House State Affairs Committee rejected HB 1236, which would have closed that loophole. This may save insurance money in the short run but is likely to cost the state a great deal more in the long run.
The same committee rejected (on a party-line vote) HB 1175, which would establish an Early Learning Advisory Council. We are one of only a handful of states without state-funded preschool education and without an early learning advisory council. The benefits of early childhood education for children, and for a state’s economy, have been shown time and again, and this is an important step to improving our children’s education and investing in the future of our state’s economy. Another short-sighted saving in the short run that will cost the state and its (old and young) citizens a great deal in the long run.
HB 1087 to "promote intellectual diversity" at our public universities is a solution to problems that don't exist and imposes new reporting requirements that are not needed. A few universities' problems mostly on the coasts and with elite private universities don't exist here. In 40 years of attending events at USD, I did not see evidence of such problems and said so in the Education Committee and on the House floor. Another unwarranted attack on public education, it passed 44 – 24.
HB 1178 would shorten by about two weeks the period available for absentee voting. I spoke and voted against that change, but it passed 36 -33. I hope this isn't the beginning of efforts to make voting more difficult in our state, as happens in many other states across the country.
A disappointment a couple weeks ago was defeat of Senate Bill 71 which would forbid imposing the death penalty on a person suffering from a documented severe mental illness when they committed a crime. Last year the House passed a similar bill (45 - 23) but it died in a Senate committee. This year it survived the Senate committee, but the Senate defeated it 12 – 21. I support repealing the death penalty and SB 71 would be a good step in that direction. It's part of a "whole life" point of view—pro-life that goes beyond opposing abortion.
After passing the House last week, HB 1108, to prohibit teaching about "gender dysphoria" in grade school, lost by a vote of 2 – 7 in the Senate State Affairs Committee.
The 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress (with then-Representative Noem's support) last year legalized the growing of industrial hemp under strict regulation by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Industrial hemp has many potential legal and beneficial uses, but cannot cause the "highs" that come from marijuana. The prime sponsor Rep. Oren Lesmeister, a West River rancher, assures us that it is easily distinguished from marijuana both by sight and by chemical testing.
House Bill 1191, to "legalize the growth, production, and processing of industrial hemp and derivative products in the state," establishes very stringent regulations for licensing growers of hemp and controlling its transportation, sale, and use in South Dakota. Over half the legislators in both the House and the Senate sponsored the bill and it passed the House 65 – 2 two weeks ago. I sponsored and voted for it.
Gov. Noem asked the Legislature not to legalize hemp, claiming it's the first step to legalization of marijuana. The Senate will hold hearings on HB 1191 next week. We'll see if the Senate gives it the same overwhelming support that the House gave it. If you have feelings about this (or any other) issue, let your legislators know.
Belated thank you to Dr. Catherine Mitchel of the Vermillion Medical Clinic and Dr. Denise Hanisch of Pioneer Memorial Hospital, Viborg, who each served a few weeks ago as part of the Legislature's doctor of the day program. We appreciate their service.
The House approved commendations honoring the USD Women's Cross Country Team for winning their fifth consecutive Summit League Championship and the USD Women's Basketball Team for winning their third regular season Summit League Championship in four years.
High school students, here’s your chance to 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/.
As always, you can contact me at email@example.com, Ray.Ring@sdlegislature.gov, or 605-675-9379 (my cell). I can't respond to everyone, but please let me know if you are from District 17 (Clay and Turner Counties).
Please plan to attend the Cracker Barrel at Vermillion City Hall on Saturday, March 2, 9 to 11 a.m. If someone will organize a Cracker Barrel in Turner County, I'll make every effort to be there.