Sen. Art Rusch

The 2021 session of the South Dakota Legislature ended on March 11th with “veto day” on March 29. During the 2021 legislative session there were 283 bills introduced in the House but only 195 introduced in the Senate. Of these bills, 27 were withdrawn and 247 were signed by the governor.

There were also eight Senate Concurrent Resolutions, one of which was SCR605 which I prepared and introduced. SCR605 was a resolution supporting the value of public higher education in South Dakota and encouraging continued efforts to ensure that higher education remains affordable for all South Dakotans. SCR605 passed in the Senate by a vote of 35-0 and the House by a vote of 55-13. I was surprised to see that there were 13 Representatives who apparently don’t believe in the value of public higher education in South Dakota.

I was pleased to be able to be involved in the groundbreaking last week for the new Health Sciences Building at USD. This building will be adjacent to and connected to the Lee Medical School building. It is projected that the new building will be completed in August of 2023.

Senate Bill 40 which was passed by the South Dakota Legislature in 2020 authorized the construction of the new Health Sciences Building and the subsequent demolition of Julian Hall and also appropriated $5 million for the construction of the Health Sciences Building.

One year can make a significant difference. During the 2020 Legislative Session I worked for the passage of SB72 which would have established the Dakota's Promise “need based” scholarship fund for university students. SB72 would have appropriated $2 million for the scholarship fund.

The bill for the scholarship fund passed the Senate by a vote of 32-2 but was killed in the House Appropriations Committee.

This year was an entirely different story. The legislature appropriated $50 million, as the state’s share of the $200 million Premier Scholarship program. In January, Premier Bank pledged $100 million to the program and Avera and Sanford Health have each pledged $12.5 million. It is expected that the final $25 million will be raised soon.

This “need based” scholarship fund will be managed by the South Dakota Community Foundation and will be apportioned between the various universities based on their student enrollment.

Students who receive one of the scholarships will be required to work in South Dakota for three years after graduation. A year ago, when the proposal for a $2 million scholarship fund was defeated, I would have never believed that this year we would be establishing a $200 million “need based” scholarship fund.

The legislature continues to hear that the governor may call a special session of the legislature to deal with medical marijuana sometime before July 1 when Initiated Measure 26 goes into effect. Most of the Senators that I have talked to don’t think that is a good idea.

During the session, the governor proposed House Bill 1100 to delay and modify the effect of IM26. The Senate made changes in the governor’s version of 1100 because we felt that we needed to show the voters that we had heard them and were trying to work toward actually implementing IM26 and not just delaying it.

The amended version of HB1100 passed the Senate by a vote of 29-6 but the governor and the House were unwilling to go along with the Senate’s proposed changes so HB1100 was killed. Unless the governor and the House have changed their minds, a special session will just be a waste of time.

There are two additional reasons that we believe that a special session should not be held. IM26 is just part of the marijuana related initiated measures passed by the voters last fall. The legality of Amendment A is still pending before the South Dakota Supreme Court and, depending on what the Supreme Court does, we may need to have a special session to consider that closely related issue. In addition, we believe that special sessions should be held for true emergencies not just to reconsider bills that were defeated during the regular session.

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