Sen. Art Rusch

There is just one week left to the 2020 session of the South Dakota Legislature. Of the 479 bills which were introduced in the legislature this year, 36 have been withdrawn and 88 have passed and been sent to the Governor. She has signed 69 of those bills and still has 19 bills on her desk awaiting action. As of today, she has not vetoed any bills.

One of the bills which created a great deal of controversy this week was HB1133 which would have created a rebuttable presumption that courts should award custody of all children in divorce actions 50/50 between the parents. This would repeal the rule presently in effect that courts should determine custody based on "the best interests of the child." My years of experience hearing divorce cases lead me to believe that the primary concern of the courts should always be the best interests of the child, so I voted against the bill and it was defeated in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The supporters of the bill have announced that they intend to field election candidates against all of us who voted against their bill and elect a legislature for next year which will repeal the "best interests of the child" rule.

There were a couple of bills that I am interested in that made progress this week. South Dakota law has provided criminal penalties for stalkers and higher penalties for repeat stalkers, but it was unclear whether convictions from other states could be counted. HB1068 made it clear that stalking convictions from other states could be counted in determining whether an offender was a repeat offender who could be subjected to larger penalties. HB1068 has now passed in both houses.

HB1169 is a bill which prohibits the use of electronic devices while driving. Its prime sponsor in the House was Representative Doug Barthel, a former Chief of Police in Sioux Falls. The bill forbids texting, but also forbids some other uses of mobile electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. A violation would be a class two misdemeanor. Last year a similar bill passed one of the houses but failed in the other. This year it passed in the House, and, this week passed the Senate by a vote of 24-11.

This week the Senate passed SB 41, which authorizes the construction of a facilities building at USD which would be built on the north side of Highway 50, near the Vucurevich Center and SB 42, which authorizes the destruction of three unsafe old buildings on the campus and their replacement with a grounds building that would be located east of the Fine Arts Building and Wellness Center. Both of those still have to pass the House.

One of the biggest issues I have been concerned about, and the most important for USD, is the issue of the money for the construction of the Health Sciences Building. The USD School of Health Sciences includes the Addiction Counseling and Prevention, Dental Hygiene, Health Sciences, Medical Laboratory Science, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Physician Assistant Studies, Physical Therapy, Public Health and Social Work, programs. The $5 million in state funds needed for construction of this building at USD was included in the budget that the Governor recommended in December. HB 40 passed the Senate by a vote of 32 to 3 and is now pending in the House. However, I have talked to some members of the House who don't seem to think that this is very important and don't recognize how much the School of Health Sciences helps with the health care workforce shortages in South Dakota. Also, the construction of this building and the destruction of Julian Hall will avoid some $18 million dollars in maintenance needed for Julian Hall.

This week, by a vote of 35-0, the Senate passed a recommendation to create a study committee to study the necessary infrastructure needs of the Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City. Ellsworth is scheduled to be the new home of the B-21 bombers that will be based there starting next year. This may result in thousands of additional airmen and families being located at the base and in Rapid City. The study committee would be tasked with studying the situation and determining whether there is more that South Dakota can do to prepare for that significant growth.

Finally, the issue of industrial hemp is still pending. It appears that three of the four "guardrails" that the Governor wanted to see before she approves hemp in this state have been met. These three are; Reliable enforcement, Responsible Regulation and Safe Transportation. However, the fourth guardrail, Adequate Funding, to meet the governor's requirements is still in the process of negotiation. As I told you before, the Governor wants $1.9 million in funding for the hemp program for next year and the Legislature is looking at a figure somewhere between $350,000 and $750,000.

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