Sen. Art Rusch

The legislature has now finished the third week of the 2020 legislative session, the ninth through the 12 legislative days. Under the South Dakota Constitution, the legislature is allowed to meet for up to 40 days but this year the leadership has scheduled the session to be just 36 days plus the veto day in late March. Thursday, January 30th was the last day for "unlimited" bill introduction. After that date each legislator may introduce no more than three additional bills. As of January 29th, there had been 158 bills introduced in the House and 117 in the Senate.

I have heard a lot of questions as to what our state revenues have been for the past year since the legislature's ability to provide additional funding for education, medical providers and state employees will be dependent on what the state's income has been. We have heard that tourism related revenues increased last year, for the 10th year in a row, which is a good sign. Sometime in the early part of February we should see the initial projections as to what the state's tax revenue was.

One of this year's bills that I hope to see enacted is SB70 which allows driver's license tests in Spanish. We are so short of workers in South Dakota. We have heard from a number of businesses who are supporting this request because of their work force needs. Many of them are unable to find the employees they need if those potential employees are unable to obtain a driver's license. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but was killed in the House.

Last week the Board of Regents and USD, including the Law School and Medical School, presented their requests to the Joint Appropriations Committee. Most Legislative Committees represent just one house – the House or Senate, but the Joint Appropriations committee has members of both houses so that the appropriations requests will not have to be made multiple times and the joint committee can arrive at one recommended one budget.

The Board of Regents requested $836 million, of which $224 million would come from state general funds, $91 million from the federal government and $520 million from other sources, primarily tuition. These figures certainly show that the largest share of funding for higher education comes from tuition and that the state is providing nowhere near the 50 percent of the cost of higher education that they originally committed to. As a result, South Dakota leads the nation in student loan debt. South Dakota has the highest proportion of students with student loan debt and is 4th highest in the percentage of student loan borrowers over age 50.

USD's budget requests included an increase of $104,000 for increased utility costs, an increase of $114,000 to expand graduate assistantships, an increase of $589,000 to operate the online bookstore and the retail store on campus, and an increase of $318,000 for operation of the USD Discovery District in Sioux Falls. The USD Law School asked for an increase of $121,000 for faculty development, bar preparation services and equipment.

This week the Joint Appropriations Committee also heard requests from the National Guard, Department of the Military, and Department of Veterans Affairs. The National Guard and Department of the Military are requesting an appropriation of $26 million of which nearly $22 million would be federal money. The Department of Veterans Affairs includes the state veteran's home in Hot Springs and the newly approved state veteran's cemetery near Sioux Falls. The Department of Veterans Affairs is requesting an appropriation of $12.9 million of which $4.5 million comes from state general funds, $3.8 million federal money and $4.5 million other money. They are requesting an increase of 5 employees, all of whom would be involved in the management and maintenance of the new cemetery.

In the Judiciary Committee this week we heard a controversial bill for which the only supporters appeared to be from Fall River County (Hot Springs). Last year the County Commissioners there passed a county ordinance that everyone could carry guns into the courthouse. The judges assigned to the Fall River County courthouse ruled that Fall River County could do that, but that the judges would no longer hold court there and everyone from Hot Springs would have to go to Rapid City for court hearings. Fall River County then withdrew that ordinance, but this year they are in front of the legislature seeking legislation that would allow all their county employees to carry guns in the courthouse. The court system testified that they are fine with that if the county provides security (guards and scanners) for the second floor where the courtrooms and court offices are located. However, the problem is that there are no bathrooms on the second floor and Fall River County doesn't want everyone to go through security to use the restroom. So, the issue remains to be resolved.

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