Sen. Art Rusch

I sponsored a "no secret lawsuit settlements" bill last year. This forbids the state government or any political entities from entering into settlements of lawsuits which contain confidentiality clauses which prohibit the parties from revealing the terms of the settlement. Last year this bill passed the Senate but was defeated in the House Judiciary Committee. I introduced a similar bill this year and this week it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously and on Thursday it passed the Senate by a vote of 23 to 10 so I hope it is on the way to complete passage. I have the governor's support for the bill. It seems to me that if a lawsuit involves a public entity the public has a right to know about the settlement of a lawsuit.

On Monday and Tuesday the Board of Regents made their budget requests to the Appropriations Committee. The BOR is requesting a total budget of $813 million for next year. $217 million of that money would come from general fund dollars and the rest, nearly $600 million, would come from other dollars and some federal dollars.

The biggest share of the other fund dollars come from student fees and tuition. Originally the plan was that the students would pay 50 percent of higher education cost from tuition and fees and the state would pay the balance. As you can see, we are far from that ideal now. I am disappointed to see the tuition share of the funding for higher education growing every year.

Tuesday was USD day before the Appropriation Committee. President Gestring gave her presentation about the University; Dean Geu talked about the Law School; and Dean Nettleman talked about the Medical School. The university is asking for a budget increase of $880,000 of which $350,000 would be for a new program in Executive Education at the Beacom School of Business and the rest would be for increased salaries for faculty.

The Law School was asking for an increase of $100,000 for faculty salaries. These increases would be funded by other dollars – not general funds. Wednesday was supposed to be USD day at the legislature but that event was cancelled due to the dangerously cold temperatures. A number of other events have been cancelled for that reason as well.

One of the state departments making a presentation to the Appropriations Committee this week was the Department of Tourism. They reported that tourism generated $2.66 billion in revenue in South Dakota in 2018 and provided nearly 55,000 jobs in the state. They claim that every dollar they spend in promoting tourism results in $41 of tourist spending and produces $3 in state tax revenue.

There are several tax increase bills which have been filed that constituents have contacted me about this week. I tend to think that all of those are dead issues as Gov. Noem has made clear that she will not permit any tax increases and has told some of the proponents of very minor tax increases that she will veto their bills if they pass, just for that reason.

One of the bills which has been introduced in the House, but apparently not had a hearing yet, is a proposal to change the South Dakota “state instrument” from the fiddle to the accordion. Since I don’t play either of them, I am uncertain of my position but if there are any readers who have strong views one way or the other, I would be interested in hearing from you in the event the bill does reach the Senate.

Given how far South Dakota is from any ocean, it was interesting that the Senate passed a bill allowing the production and transportation of saltwater aquatic life. The need for this legislation became apparent with the recent news about the shrimp plant which will be constructed in Madison.

Every day there are some discussions going on about what we are going to do about our nursing home shortage and the chronic underfunding provided by Medicaid. If Medicaid doesn’t fairly reimburse the nursing homes for the residents there who are covered by Medicaid then the private pay (individual pay or insurance pay) residents have to make up the difference. There are several plans being talked about but it remains to be seen what will be done. Then there are also additional funding needs for Community Health Providers such as SESDAC, for education and for state employees.

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