Sen. Art Rusch

The 2021 session of the South Dakota Legislature is now done except for veto day on March 29. So far, we have only heard that the governor vetoed HB1217. This was an anti-transgender bill that I voted against because I felt that the South Dakota Activities Association is doing a good job of regulating that issue. The veto was not a complete veto – it was a “style and form” veto which means that it will still go into law if the Legislature makes the changes that she wants to see made.

I haven’t talked to proponents and opponents of HB1217, but it looks like the governor fixed some of the worst parts of the bill. I know that USD was very concerned that part of HB1217 conflicted with NCAA rules which would have put them in a bind as to whether to follow state law or NCAA regulations. They would have faced possible penalties from the NCAA if they did not follow their regulations. That could include banning South Dakota teams from national competition, a particular concern this week when both USD and SDSU have teams competing at that national level. It looks like the governor has attempted to address that issue by excluding collegiate athletics from the bill.

In addition to veto day, we know that the Legislature will be returning to Pierre for a special session to carry out the required redistricting of legislative districts. That special session is scheduled for Nov. 8 and 9 to comply with the Dec. 1, 2021 deadline that is set in our constitution. In addition, the Legislature has heard of possible special sessions to deal with the impeachment of the Attorney General and a possible special session to deal with recreational marijuana regardless of whether the Supreme Court holds that Amendment A is constitutional or unconstitutional.

The big issue before the Legislature during its final week is always the budget. The budget, as passed this year, includes 2.4% increases for state employees, K-12 education funding, and community support providers. Since the state is flush with cash because of the huge federal COVID dollar infusions, there was also money available for one-time projects that were previously believed to be undoable. Included in those appropriations were:

• $3.2 million for a Liberty Wellness Center in Box Elder to help accommodate the planned expansion of Ellsworth AFB to accommodate the new B-21 bomber;

• $7.5 million for a new dairy research and extension farm at SDSU;

• $20 million for a new bioproducts facility in the research park at Brookings;

• $19 million for a Mineral Industries Building at the School of Mines;

• $12 million for a new livestock complex on the State Fair Grounds in Huron;

• $3 million to begin the cleanup of the Big Sioux River;

• $20 million to help rehabilitate the rail line west from Pierre to the Black Hills;

• $21.6 million to pay off bonds for the Technical Colleges;

• $9 million for dam maintenance (mostly but not entirely on lands owned by School and Public Lands);

• $75 million for broadband grants to encourage the expansion of high-speed internet throughout the state;

• $50 million for the state’s share of the $200 million “needs based” Freedom scholarship program;

• $50 million for the South Dakota Health Care Trust Fund;

• $5 million for a new state airplane;

• $1.5 million for a new on-line teacher certification system;

• $500 thousand for a new visitor’s center at Custer State Park;

• $910 thousand to buy land adjacent to the women’s prison in Pierre for work areas for the prisoners and possible expansion;

• $100 thousand to help with the commissioning of the new Navy ship, the USS Pierre; and

• $4.1 million to implement the medical and recreational marijuana laws passed by the voters at last fall’s election.

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