Sen. Art Rusch

Thursday, Feb. 28, was the 32nd Legislative Day. The Legislature has just eight days left in this session and one of those is veto day on March 29 so there are actually just seven days left to complete this year's work.

I am not sure how many bills have been passed so far but 27 bills have been withdrawn and the governor has signed 56 bills and vetoed one. Cross-over day was Monday, Feb. 25, so if bills had not passed from their house of origin by that date, they are dead for the year. Consequently, the Senate is only dealing with House bills now or bills that went from the Senate to the House and were amended there so they have come back to us.

I was overly optimistic when I told you in last weeks column that SB122, which would have forced the Board of Regents to allow guns on campus, was dead for at least this year. The proponents made another effort this week with SB9, an amended bill, which would have forbidden any entity of state government from making a rule prohibiting people from carrying concealed pistols. I think that the obvious intent of the bill was aimed at the Regents but may have also applied to the courts and prisons. Fortunately we were able to kill SB9 by a vote of 31 to 4.

One of the concerns that I have about our prison population is that South Dakota is the only state that makes it a crime to have drugs in a person's body, in other words makes "ingestion" of drugs a crime. A large number of our South Dakota prison inmates, particularly the female inmates, are there for ingestion. Some of them may have also committed other offenses but were allowed to plead to ingestion but we don't know that. I am encouraged by the fact that the Senate has passed SB167 which proposes a legislative commission to study what South Dakota should do about ingestion offenses.

A lot of the time during this final week will deal with setting the budget. Right now the Legislature is considering what should be done with the “one-time money” that wasn’t spent during FY2019. Right now FY2019 is three quarters over and the Appropriations Committee has concluded that the state has approximately $32 million left over.

I think that there is a consensus in the Senate that at least $1 million of that should go to the "Dakota Promise" scholarships. South Dakota is the only state in the country that doesn’t have some form of need based scholarships. This money could go to students at either public or private universities but would have to be matched by the school. However, I understand that the House is resisting that plan.

Other areas under consideration for larger sums of “one-time money” are $7.4 million for a medical facility at the Jameson Prison in Sioux Falls, $6 million for innovation grants to nursing homes and pre-natal care centers, $3.9 million for a National Guard Readiness Center at the Rapid City airport (which will be matched with $11.6 million in federal funds), $1 million for pheasant habitat and $8.1 million for clean air initiatives. The clean air initiatives will be things such as electric car charging stations and newer, cleaner running diesel buses and trucks. This $8.1 million dollars was South Dakota's share of the Volkswagen Settlement fund which was paid as a result of Volkswagen's efforts to fraudulently conceal the pollution caused by their diesel cars.

It is required to be spent for things which will improve our air quality. Another issue which the Senate is supporting is $1.8 million to make improvements surrounding Ellsworth Air Force Base. Ellsworth is a huge economic force in western South Dakota and we want to make improvements so that the base is not vulnerable to closure if the federal government does another round of military base closings.


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