Art Rusch

We are now in the third week of the 2021 legislative session. Because of the limited time that the South Dakota Legislature is allowed (no more than 40 days) we have to set various deadlines for the filing of proposed legislation: Friday, Jan.29 was the last day for “unlimited” bill introduction. Legislators can now only file three more bills. February 3 is the last day for introduction of individual bills and Feb. 4 is the last date for the introduction of committee bills and joint resolutions.

In the South Dakota Legislature every bill gets a hearing. The bill may be limited to a committee hearing in the House or Senate, depending on where it was introduced, and could be killed there but if it passes there then it goes to the floor of that legislative chamber and if it passes there it goes to the other house where it starts in a committee. A bill can be killed at any of those four stages. A motion to send a bill to the 41st day has the effect of killing the bill since we only have 40 days. I am not sure how that tradition started.

A couple of interesting bills were heard this week: SB71 to declare June 19th (Juneteenth) as a working holiday is widely supported. June 19, 1865 was the day that Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas and let the last slaves know that the Civil War was over and that they were now free. The only opposition was from groups that felt that Juneteenth should be designated a paid holiday rather than a working holiday.

Also heard in Senate Judiciary was SB79 making it a crime to use laser pointers against law enforcement officers. It would already be a criminal assault if a laser caused physical injury or eye injury to an officer but SB79 makes it a misdemeanor to shine Lasers at officer even if it doesn’t actually cause any injury.

So much of what the Legislature does has to do with the budget. The largest portion of South Dakota’s budget goes to the Department of Social Services. For next year they are requesting $1 billion, 65 million, an increase of $27 million from last year. So much of what South Dakota pays for Medicaid is dependent upon the federal “FMAP.” As a result, the legislature is constantly talking about the FMAP and what its effect will be on South Dakota.

FMAP stands for “Federal Medical Assistance Percentage.” The FMAP is calculated every year based on the average per capita income of each state for the three most recent calendar years. States with a higher per capita income are reimbursed by the federal government at a smaller percentage than states with a lower per capita income.

The federal government reimburses states which have an average per capita income for 55% of their Medicaid expenses. Since South Dakota’s average per capita income is below the national average, the FMAP here is 58.59% of our Medicaid expenses which means that we will be receive about $3.4 million dollars more than we would have if our per capital income was equal to the national average.

South Dakota’s FMAP has grown significantly over the past few years, from 51.62% in Fiscal Year 2016 to 58.59% this year. This reflects that our South Dakota average per capital income has been falling in comparison to the national average per capital income.

The Appropriations Committee reported to the legislators that this week they heard from the attorney general’s office which is requesting an increase in funding of $881,000 and six additional staff including three more DCI (Division of Criminal Investigation) agents: From the Department of Education which is requesting an increase of $21 million of which $19 million would go to increase state aid to education including a 2.4% increase in teacher’s salaries.

They also heard from the Board of Technical Education (which runs the four technical colleges) which is requesting an increase of $636,000 for general operations but also is requesting $21 million to pay off some outstanding bonds. We head that these bonds are terrible bonds as they were “interest only” bonds and there has been no payments made on the principal so the full amounts are still outstanding.

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