2018 SD Legislative Sessions – Dan Ahlers Week 7 Update

dan_ahlersGreetings from Pierre. This past Friday was crossover day. All bills, in order to continue, must be out of their house of origin. I will provide an update on some of this week’s bills as well as an update on the Appropriation budget hearings.

In the 2016 election, we passed Marsy’s Law to protect victim’s rights. Although many of the concerns by opponents have proven to be false, there have been issues with the definition of what constitutes a victim. HJR 1004 narrows the definition of victim to better allocate resources for victims of crimes. Because Marsy’s Law was a constitutional amendment, voters will have to vote on these changes in the 2018 election. HJR 1004 passed the House 65-0. In conjunction with HJR 1004, we passed HB 1174 which gives a victim cause of action and defines members of the multi-disciplinary team that can have access to information. This bill passed the House 66-0.

Earlier in the session, HJR 1001 was passed to put a legislative salary increase on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. On Wednesday, the House voted to increase legislative salary by the same amount through statute. This bill would not require voters to approve the increase. While this bill may appear as an attempt to by-pass the voters, it is actually a better approach. If voters were to pass the constitutional amendment in November, the legislator salary increase would be put in the state constitution. Amending legislator salary going forward would be extremely difficult and locks in this higher salary rate. In prior elections, attempts have been made to eliminate the five cent a mile travel reimbursement and it has failed each time. Subjects like legislative salary should not be in the constitution. The constitution should be a framework for our government and not a place for public policy. As mentioned previously, we have to vote on Marsy’s Law again to fix problems identified by the proponents of the constitutional amendment. It is another great example of why public policy should be in statute and not in the constitution.

As part of balancing the fiscal year 18 budget, the governor has recommended some one-time transfers. One of these transfers was from the South Dakota Health and Educational Facilities Authority. The money in this fund comes from fees generated from low interest bonds. While this authority was created by the state, it is not a state entity. Because the SDHEFA is not a state entity, HB 1318 which authorizes the transfer, is unconstitutional. The SDHEFA can use this money to support education and health facilities and their activities. In order to make this bill work, I crafted an amendment that would allow a one-time transfer by the SDHEFA board. After this bill passes, the board will allocate approximately 2.5 million in funding to an educational and/or health care facility. HB 1318 passed 49-17.

In Appropriations, we continue to debate SB 91 which provides funding to establish a state veterans cemetery in Sioux Falls. Please contact the members of the Appropriations Committee and encourage them to support this bill. The land will be donated by Sioux Falls and various veterans organizations have raised $100,000 to put in an endowment to help pay for ongoing costs. The funding request from the state is $600,000 which would be reimbursed by the federal government upon completion of the cemetery. A last minute amendment has threatened to derail the efforts of our veterans. This amendment would require 9.4 million dollars in the endowment before the application process could begin. Currently, South Dakota is in a race for this cemetery with Minnesota. If we do not apply by July 1st, Minnesota will most likely get the cemetery grant and South Dakota would not be eligible due to the proximity of Minnesota’s proposed cemetery location east of Brookings. This amount is more than what would be necessary to annually maintain the cemetery. Annual costs for this cemetery would be $261,000. While the governor has denied this amendment comes from his office, they will not support the bill without this amendment.   Hearings for this bill will continue this week. I encourage readers to voice their support by contacting the governor’s office and emailing members of the appropriations committee.

It will be important to hear from you during session. I would appreciate your input on any issue or concern. You may email me at dan.ahlers@sdlegislature.gov.

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