This was the last week of the regular 2020 Legislative Session. We will probably have a Veto Session on March 30.
First an update on a bill I discussed last week. Senate Bill 157 makes it easier to obtain a county conditional use permit and harder to protect their property from environmental concerns like manure spills, odors, and other forms of pollution. The bill had already passed the Senate but the House amended it to make it slightly harder for a permit to pass the board of adjustment (county commissioners). However, the bill still makes it easier to get a permit than under current law and discourages challenges to a board of adjustment decision. I voted against the bill, even with somewhat tightened the requirements, because I share the opponents' environmental concerns. The Senate concurred with the amended bill.
The budget was Week 9's big issue. At the beginning of the week, the Joint Appropriations Committee and the Bureau of Finance and Management "found" more money by changing spending forecasts. Factions of the majority party then argued for days among themselves and with the governor over how to spend the new-found money, while the rest of us waited around. After the dust settled, we passed the general budget at about 10 p.m. on Thursday night.
The good news is that we gave 2 percent increases to the "big three"—public school teachers, state employees (including Board of Regents employees), and community support providers (e.g., nursing homes). The budget also provides about $4 million for local roads and bridges and added a million dollars for support providers.
Two percent barely keeps up with inflation. That's small consolation for teachers receiving some of the nation's lowest salaries: South Dakota now ranks 46th among the 50 states. On top of that, legislators persistently target teachers with bans on faculty collective bargaining, bills that would violate school counselors' confidentiality and hamstring athletic trainers, and other paranoia-driven proposals.
Who is not in this budget?
• Forty or 50 thousand low income South Dakotans don't have health insurance because we won't expand Medicaid. That fact could loom large in this coronavirus epidemic.
• Thousands of young children start kindergarten unprepared because we won't support early-childhood education. We won't even study it. Early-childhood education benefits children in the long run and the short run. Research shows that it creates a more productive workforce, benefiting economic development.
• Many addicted South Dakotans can't get help because we don't have enough addiction counselors and court support officers. Many addicts end up in jail or prison at great financial and emotional cost to them, their families, their communities, and the state—and receive little or no help while they're there.
• Uncounted numbers of our young people can't afford tech school because of high tuition and not enough needs-based scholarships.
• Many low-income students are not attending college, or are accumulating debilitating debt, because the Legislature failed to fund the Dakota's Promise Scholarship.