Sen. Art Rusch

As I have pointed out before, even though the 2020 legislative session ended in March, the members of the legislature have been caucusing online and legislative committees have been meeting online as well. This week I spent most of three days on legislative committee meetings.

On Tuesday, the Joint Health and Human Services Committee met. This was a "joint" committee because both the members of the Senate who are on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the members of the House who are on the House Health and Human Services Committee met together. The purpose of the meeting was to listen to public testimony and comments as to how South Dakota's federal coronavirus funds should be spent to help with health related issues and to prepare recommendations for the special session of the legislature which is scheduled for October 5th.

At the committee hearing we were told that South Dakota has spent $114 million dollars and has committed to other items which amount to between $447 million and $532 million. This leaves $603 million to $688 million which the state of South Dakota could spend. After hearing several hours of testimony, our committee recommended that South Dakota spend $55 million to assist long term care facilities in meeting excess costs which have resulted from the coronavirus: and $10 million to assist long term care facilities and community support providers in alleviating the isolation and lack of family contacts which are adversely affecting clients. We also recommended $30 million for acute care facilities; $15 million for rent, mortgage and utility assistance; and $3 million for food distribution programs. Finally we recommended up to $1 million for assisting in translation and interpretation services for immigrants in South Dakota.

In addition to that meeting of the Joint Health and Human Services Committee, I was involved in meetings of the Government Operations and Audit Committee on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. One of the issues we spent time on was a review of where the federal coronavirus funds have gone. In District 17, Clay County has been allocated $929,000 and as of September 1, has spent $371,000 and Turner County has been allocated $553,000 and has spent $3,000. The figures for the cities and towns in District 17 are: Centerville - allocated $197,000; Chancellor - allocated $59,000 and spent $5,000; Davis - allocated $19,999; Dolton - allocated $8,500; Hurley - allocated $90,000; Irene - allocated $91,000; Marion - allocated $176,000; Monroe - allocated $35,000; Parker - allocated $231,000 and spent $3,900; Vermillion - allocated $2,470,000 and spent $843,000; Viborg - allocated $173,000; and Wakonda - allocated $66,000.

We also received reports from the South Dakota High School Activities Association, Department of Human Services, Bureau of Human Resources, Department of Revenue, Bureau of Information and Technology, Bureau of Administration, and Auditor General.

On Thursday we heard reports from the Secretary of State and Department of Veterans Affairs. The report that we received from the Secretary of State dealt with plans for the November election. We were told that county auditors have mailed out 120,000 absentee ballots and that approximately 20,000 of those ballots have already been returned.

The report from the Department of Veterans Affairs dealt with the new veteran’s cemetery which is under construction near Sioux Falls. This cemetery is being funded by private donations and some state funds as well as a donation of land by the City of Sioux Falls. It will provide an alternative burial location for veterans who have previously been buried in the Black Hills. We were shown pictures of the underground vaults which are being pre-buried, in other words being buried now for future use. There will also be columbariums for the internment of cremated remains. There will be space for veterans and for their spouses but they have to have met certain service requirements.

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