We have just finished the third week of the 2019 Legislative Session. Most bills this week were to “clean up” out-of-date statutes, “clear-up” unclear passages, and “catch-up” with Federal law, technology, and other changes. Most pass unanimously or with limited opposition.
We're shifting into a higher gear after Gov. Noem’s budget address on Wednesday. With a detailed look at her priorities and how she plans to fund them, we can find some common ground on her proposals. My caucus continues advocating for the need to address South Dakota’s nursing home crisis and we’re glad the governor addressed it. We can work together to address this critical need for our state – and District 17, as I heard from district residents during the event sponsored by the South Dakota Health Care Association.
There were also positive signs on state employee compensation and support for education. Gov. Noem is proposing 2.5 percent increases in state employees' pay and in support for local schools. She also reversed Gov. Daugaard's proposal to begin requiring state employees to pay health care premiums. Health insurance coverage is one of the "enticers" for attracting the best and brightest to state government positions, including at our universities. Of course, employees still pay premiums for their dependents.
However, this budget does have concerning cuts to the Department of Social Services. It's not clear to me whether the 2.5 percent raise includes Community Support Providers. I have written previously about inadequate funding for these public servants and heard again this week about their high turnover rates. Their employees love their work, but they must be able to support their families. Our caucus is setting up meetings and doing research to determine the details of these cuts and what their impact would be.
Funding new priorities is important, but our caucus members want to make sure no one is left behind in the shuffle. We understand that South Dakota must balance our budget, but we do not want to cut funding for those who need it most – the "least of these." I’m still hopeful that we will be able to find common ground.
I met this week with District 17 residents with the S. D. Health Care Association, Vermillion city government, and S. D. Counseling Association. I also attended the Governor's Prayer Breakfast and attended receptions at which I met with representatives of Community Service Providers of South Dakota and S. D. Newspaper Association. Watching demonstrations of how police officers are trained to deal with threatening situations raised my appreciation for our first responders.
These “social events” are great opportunities to learn. Lobbyists provide useful information, too, but “regular citizens” who email me or come to Pierre for a day or two share invaluable first-hand knowledge of situations they face every day.
I need to hear directly from you about these and many other issues. The best way to reach me is email at email@example.com or Ray.Ring@sdlegislature.gov or cell phone at 605-675-9379. Be sure to let me know if you are from District 17 (Clay and Turner Counties). I’m more likely to respond to those.
Please don’t forget the Cracker Barrels in Vermillion City Hall, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m., Feb. 2 and March 2.