South Dakota State Rep. Dan Ahlers Selected for the CSG 2018 Toll Fellows Class

DanAhlersStateRepLEXINGTON, Ky.South Dakota state Rep. Dan Ahlers is among the 48 state leaders from across the country selected to participate in The Council of State Governments’ 2018 Henry Toll Fellowship, the nation’s premier leadership development program for state government officials.

The members of the Class of 2018 hail from 32 states and Guam and represent all three branches of state government. A committee of program alumni reviewed applications and selected the class.

“My hope is to improve my leadership and communication skills,” Ahlers said. “Improving these skills will help build new partnerships. These partnerships can help solve the challenges we face as a state.”

The Toll Fellowship, named for CSG founder Henry Wolcott Toll, has convened a group of the nation’s top officials for this intensive six-day, five-night intellectual boot camp for more than 30 years in Lexington, Kentucky. The 2018 program will be held Aug. 24-28.

The program’s agenda includes a lineup of dynamic sessions designed to stimulate personal assessment and growth, while providing networking and relationship-building opportunities. Each year’s program is unique, but previous programs have included sessions on leadership personality assessment, media training, crisis management, appreciative inquiry and adaptive leadership.

“The CSG Toll Fellows are a remarkable group of state leaders,” CSG Executive Director/CEO David Adkins said. “We have designed the fellowship to expand their leadership capacity with a strong focus on collaboration, communication and teamwork skills. Politics today are often characterized by polarization and gridlock. Toll Fellows learn how to overcome differences to serve the common good. These dedicated public servants leave the program energized and ready to return to their states and continue to make a difference.”

Adkins was a 1993 Toll Fellow when he served as a Kansas state representative.

Toll Fellows alumni include Cheri Beasley, associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court; Oregon Gov. Kate Brown; Delaware Gov. John Carney; Idaho U.S. Attorney Bart Davis; Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey; Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap; Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett; former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell; Anne McKeig, associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court; Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin; Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill; Tennessee U.S. Attorney Doug Overbey; Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate; U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, a former Indiana secretary of state; former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis; and Rhonda Wood, associate justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“We need to continually challenge ourselves to be better leaders,” Ahlers said. “We can never rely on just one session to really change our bad habits. We need ongoing reinforcement, follow up and feedback to ensure good leadership habits are maintained.”


About The Council of State Governments

The Council of State Governments is the nation’s only organization serving all three branches of state government. CSG is a region-based forum that fosters the exchange of insights and ideas to help state officials shape public policy. This offers unparalleled regional, national and international opportunities to network, develop leaders, collaborate and create problem-solving partnerships. For more information about CSG, visit www.csg.org.

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Ahlers Selected for Emerging Leaders Program

DanAhlersStateRepSIOUX FALLS, S.D. – State Representative Dan Ahlers (D-Dell Rapids) has been selected to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program, an annual seminar sponsored by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation (SLLF) and the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

Rep. Ahlers will join 44 other legislators from 42 other state who were selected to participate in the Program.

“It’s an honor to be selected to the Emerging Leaders Program,” said Rep. Ahlers. “I am humbled by the opportunity to be South Dakota’s representative at this prestigious event, where I can both learn about important national issues and trends in state government and share with others South Dakota’s values and vision of leadership.”

Legislators were selected to participate in the Program based upon criteria including the candidate’s long-term commitment to public service and keen interest in self-development, as well as a demonstration of the skills and aptitude to attain positions of greater political responsibility.

According to SLLF, the key objective of the program is to develop the leadership potential of emerging political leaders for the challenges of the 21st century. This will be accomplished through a highly interactive program that focuses on:

  • Analysis and feedback on elements of personal leadership style.
  • Awareness of the importance of values and ethics in governance and public service.
  • Gaining perspective on the importance of the role of the state legislature in contemporary American politics.
  • Recognition of the importance of legislators as consensus builders and facilitators of compromise.

Rep. Ahlers represents District 25 in the South Dakota Legislature, which includes parts of Minnehaha County.

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2018 SD Legislative Sessions – Dan Ahlers Week 9 Update

dan_ahlersGreetings from Pierre. We have completed the final week of session. I will cover the new Precision Ag Center at SDSU as well as provide a breakdown of the additions to this fiscal year and the state budget approved for 2019.

In this final week, the legislature approved a $55 million precision agriculture project at SDSU. SDSU will become the nation’s first university to offer a B.S. degree in Precision Agriculture. Precision Agriculture combines engineering, mathematics, agronomics and environmental analysis to improve traditional agriculture methods. GPS guidance systems in tractors during the 1990’s were the early stage of precision agriculture. An example of today’s precision agriculture combines GPS-based soil sampling, software and variable rate technology to maximize the distribution of fertilizer. Farmers, ranchers, foresters, etc. can use these tools to optimize yields and profits while protecting water, soil, livestock and wildlife.

Each session, we amend the current fiscal year’s budget. Sometimes we make cuts because revenues fall short of projections. Other years, we may have a surplus. During surplus years, we can choose to put the money in reserves or address other unmet state needs. In 2018, we added an additional $5.4 million in one-time money to education. An additional $2 million was approved for the Precision Ag Center at SDSU. We approved money to start the application for the State Veterans Cemetery near Sioux Falls. We also put $4.7 million toward state employee health insurance reserves. The Governor proposed an increase to a group of Medicaid providers to get within 90% of cost in 2019, so the legislature appropriated an additional three months of funding in 2018. We also included an additional $2 million in one-time money to all providers. Finally, we appropriated additional money in 2018 to increase starting wages for correctional officers and employees at the Human Services Center in Yankton. These facilities have experienced high turnover and overtime pay due to non-competitive wages.

For fiscal year 2019, we focused on three main areas: Medicaid providers, state employees and education. For providers, we approved a 1.5% overall inflationary increase. The newspapers reported a 2% increase, but that is not accurate. Our Medicaid providers are classified by a tier system. Providers like Avera and Sanford Hospital will see a .5% increase, while nursing homes will see a 2% increase to their reimbursement. State employees will receive a 1.2% salary policy increase. The legislature prioritized state employee salary policy early in this session. The departments have had a difficult time filling many positions throughout state government. This problem is due to wages not being comparable to the industry median. Finally, education will receive a 1% inflationary increase. This increase will apply to special education, education and technical schools. Newspapers reported that the legislature increased taxes again to give money to teachers. This statement was also inaccurate. The increase given to schools is not required to go to teacher salary. However, those schools that did not make their teacher salary accountability last year will need to use this money for salary in order to make accountability this year. With respect to taxes, the mil levy changes for property tax correspond with the increase in state general fund dollars. These levy adjustments happen each year with changes in state aid.

Thank you for electing me to represent you in Pierre. Your calls and emails during session were valuable in my decision-making process. Please continue to share your input on any issue or concern. Throughout the summer, I will continue to work on constituent issues. Sometimes these issues can be resolved without legislation. Otherwise, I use your input to create legislation for the next session. You may email me at dan.ahlers@sdlegislature.gov.

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2018 SD Legislative Sessions – Dan Ahlers Week 8 Update

dan_ahlersGreetings from Pierre. We have one week left of session. I will provide an update on some of this week’s bills as well as an update on the Appropriation budget hearings.

During this session, there has been a silent assault on the ballot initiative and constitutional amendment process. SB 9 & 13 are another example of changes to make this process difficult for voters. These bills require fiscal notes to be attached to ballot measures. While understanding the potential cost of a change in law is important, the way in which the information is disseminated is equally important. These bills require the information to be included on the ballot. This requirement makes the ballot longer and more difficult for voters to navigate. Proponents of this measure know that the average voter will vote not to change a law or amend the constitution if the measure appears to be complicated. Another problem with this requirement is a fiscal note is an anticipated cost. As we learned with Marsy’s Law, many of the anticipated costs were never incurred.

Term limits have been part of this year’s issues and bills in Pierre. SB 80 & 89 set term limits for members of the Board of Regents and Board of Education. Full disclosure, I do not like term limits. Term limits set an artificial maximum not based in fact or merit. We have always had a form of term limits called elections. If we do not like our representation, we can elect someone else. Term limits give bureaucracy, lobbyists and other entities more power. These institutions do not answer to the people. When we limit a public servant’s service without cause, we cheat ours institutions of knowledge, experience and opportunity. These bills were brought because of one person that recently retired from one the boards. People felt that this individual had too much power and influence over the process. Regardless of the merits to this claim, we should not legislate due to one bad player. Should we throw out the Electoral College because we have Donald Trump as President? (Maybe that’s not the best example). These board positions are appointed by the Governor and must be voted on by the State Senate. If a person is doing a poor job, then it is the duty of the State Senate to not approve the appointment. If this person really had too much power and was abusing his position, it is the failure of the legislative body that continues to approve the appointment.

In Appropriations, we voted to approve the veteran’s cemetery located near Sioux Falls. The committee will appropriate $600,000 toward the application process. The bill also requires an endowment to be established and minimum $3m in the fund by 2023. This money will go to operational expenses. Once the project is completed, the $600,000 from the state will be refunded by the federal government and be deposited in the endowment. Thank you to all of the supporters that contacted your legislators and encouraged their support.

The Appropriations Committee has started the budget setting process. We break each department down into their individual units and set the budget. For example, in the Department of Revenue under audits, there is request for 5 auditors. The Appropriations Committee denied this request saving $327,293. As we continue this process, the committee will make similar reductions and additions to reflect our spending priorities. This year, there will be targeted increase and an inflationary increase for community based providers, an inflationary increase for education and an increase for state employees.

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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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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2018 SD Legislative Sessions – Dan Ahlers Week 6 Update

dan_ahlersGreetings from Pierre. This week, I will provide an update on bills pertaining to the initiated measures, referendums and rural healthcare as well as an update on the Appropriation budget hearings.

HB 1282 would require any ballot question receiving more than $10,000 in out of state contributions to include a disclaimer stating it is paid for in part by out of state interests. At first, this bill seemed reasonable, but it became clear the intent was to single out certain ballot measures. The bill did pass out of the House 49-16 and will be debated in the Senate.

HB 1216 would limit out of state contributions by out of state entities to $100,000. Limits on contributions by PACs and other special interests have been adjudicated numerous times. Each time limits like these have been imposed the Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional on the basis that you cannot limit freedom of speech. This bill passed the House by a vote of 42-24. Ironically, the sponsors of this bill have asked an out of state entity to help finance a ballot measure to fix problems with Marcy’s Law. The amount of funding needed for this type of statewide campaign will exceed the $100,000 limit proposed in this bill.

HB 1201 will be require any initiated, referred or constitutional ballot measure to include the name, address and compensation for a petition circulator. Opposition to this bill fears a requirement to include personal information like a petitioner’s address could lead to acts of violence. This bill will be heard on the House floor this week.

Workforce development has been a reoccurring theme this session. This week we will vote SB 31 which reimburses $832,972 to doctors and other healthcare professionals that serve in rural South Dakota communities. The Recruitment Assistance Program is designed to assist rural communities recruit physicians, dentists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives. Participants must agree to practice in the community for three years. The Rural Healthcare Facility Recruitment Assistance Program is designed to assist hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities retain healthcare professionals. Eligible professions receive an incentive payment of $10,000 upon completion of a three year commitment. Participating facilities are required to pay a portion of the incentive payment based on community size.

In Appropriations, we heard SB 91 which provides funding to establish a state veterans cemetery in Sioux Falls. 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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2018 SD Legislative Sessions – Dan Ahlers Week 5 Update

dan_ahlersGreetings from Pierre. This week, I will provide an update on three bills I sponsored as well as an update on the Appropriation budget hearings.

HB 1076 will allow townships to use an existing tax levy to support emergency medical services. The bill allows local government the flexibility to use property tax in a way that best serves local needs. Local government could create an ambulance district, but it would require a vote to increase taxes. This bill has passed through the House of Representatives and just passed Senate Taxation 7-0. It will be on the Senate floor on Monday.

HB 1154 will allow cities to extend municipal lease-purchase agreements to 20 years. Currently, these agreements are limited to 10 years. This bill will benefit communities that are considering a community center or similar projects that involve real estate improvement and construction. The lease-purchase agreement has several advantages over bonding. Bonding will have a slightly lower interest rate, but require significant investments in time and money to comply with regulatory debt restrictions. Municipal lease-purchase agreements do not require a bond election, underwriting fees or long term administration of the bond. This bill passed the House 67-0 and moves to the Senate.

Finally, HB 1155 will create an advisory board under the Department of Education to assist with the education of deaf and hard of hearing students. Since the South Dakota School for the Deaf closed its campus, deaf and hard of hearing students have been relocated to their local school districts. Outreach services provided by the School for the Deaf do not involve daily instruction and often do not involve interaction with the student. Due to the natural language barrier, a deaf student often struggles in a typical classroom. A deaf student often becomes isolated when he/she is unable to communicate with peers. The best example to illustrate this situation is to imagine a Spanish speaking student in an English speaking class without anyone to assist in translating classroom instruction. This board will be comprised of professionals, parents and representation from the department of education. The board will create benchmarks for students and resources for schools to assist in the education of deaf and hard of hearing students. The bill aims to reverse the trend of students with this disability graduating at an average 3rd to 4th grade reading level and improve post-secondary success. HB 1155 passed out of House Education 13-1.

In Appropriations, we heard budget requests from the Tech Schools and Department of Education. The department outlined 4 outcome goals: 1) All students enter the 4th grade proficient in reading; 2) All students enter the 9th grade proficient in reading; 3) Native American students will have increased academic success; 4) Students graduate high school ready for postsecondary or the workforce. These goals will be challenged by the governor’s recommendation for a zero inflationary increase to the per student allocation. The governor has also recommended a zero inflationary increase to teacher salary. This recommendation creates a paradox since, in 2016, the legislature passed the ½% percent sales specifically to increase teacher salaries in an attempt to stay competitive with surrounding states. The Appropriations Committee to this point has remained committed to finding additional money for education. We will do revenue projections this week and receive an economic forecast for the next fiscal year.

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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2018 SD Legislative Sessions – Dan Ahlers Week 4 Update

dan_ahlersGreetings from Pierre. This week, I will provide an update on a few bills of interest as well as an update on the Appropriation budget hearings.

A reoccurring theme this session has been the need for more skilled workers in South Dakota. We have workforce shortages in many areas of our economy. Even our state agencies struggle with recruitment. Higher wages in our neighboring states has been a contributing factor. Despite these shortages and low wages, some legislators are submitting bills that jeopardize workforce recruitment. HB 1197 and 1199 seek to strip local school teachers and higher-ed professionals of their collective bargaining rights. Keep in mind, unions in South Dakota have very little power and that neither school districts nor universities are supporting these bills. Collective bargaining can be a tool to ensure a competitive living wage. These bills send a message to potential job seekers that we don’t value education or job experience.

Last year’s ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments enacted policies that some lawmakers were unwilling to accept. The result was a repeal of IM-22 passed by the voters in 2016. This year, some legislators are trying to limit your voice at the ballot. HJR 1008, if passed, would require any constitutional amendment passed by the people of South Dakota to be approved by the legislature. SJR 1, if passed, would require a 55% majority for any amendment to the constitution. A constitutional amendment already requires more signatures than a ballot initiative. Both resolutions suggest that voters are not competent to make an informed decision. If legislators were doing a better job of listening to the voters, these resolutions, ballot measures and constitutional amendments wouldn’t be necessary.

In Appropriations, we heard budget requests from the Board of Regents. The universities budgets remain relatively flat compared to last year. Mike Rush, the executive director, emphasized the importance of funding a needs-based scholarship program. In South Dakota, we average about $14 per student. Surrounding states fund needs-based scholarships at an average of $1,000 per student. In order to adequately fund this program, Dr. Rush says we would need to appropriate approximately $3.3 million in funding each year. Keeping the cost of post-secondary education down is another way for this state to develop a stronger workforce. Having a robust needs-based scholarship could provide additional opportunities to students who could not otherwise afford a degree.

BOR also outlined legislation for facility construction and renovation. The USD Dakota Dome will be getting a face lift. The Dakota Dome was built in 1979 for $8.2 million and seats 10,000 people. This upgrade will be a $26 million renovation. The renovation will include an upgrade to bathroom facilities, additional seating and a new HVAC system. Improvements will also include upgrades to the exercise facility, classrooms and field functionality. The money for this project will come from bonds, donations and the higher education facilities fund.

The School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is building a new $13.5 million facility. HB 1071 will allow for the construction of a 50,000 square feet building. The new facility will include classrooms, gym, residential area, staff offices and a playground. The current facility is 55 years old and requires significant maintenance and repair. The building would require new lighting, HVAC and wiring to meet today’s electrical and technology standards. If the state would decide to renovate, it would be at the expense of taxpayers. The new facility would be paid for by a donation.

SB 50 will authorize the construction of the American Indian Student Center at SDSU. The current student center is located in the basement of another building. President Dunn made improving student services to Native Americans a priority. Because many native students come from poverty and troubled backgrounds, Dunn believes it is essential for these students have a secure and supportive place at the university to ensure a higher level of success. President Dunn cites the success of similar programs in states like Montana. The new facility will be paid for through $4 million in donations and a $500,000 expenditure from the School and Public Lands annual allocation.

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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2018 SD Legislative Sessions – Dan Ahlers Week 3 Update

dan_ahlersGreetings from Pierre. This week, I will provide an update on a few of the bills that I am bringing this session as well as an update on the Appropriation budget hearings.

Last week, I talked about HB 1089, which repeals the SD Certified Beef Fund. Some members of the agricultural community reached out this week and wanted to salvage this underutilized program. In the spirit of cooperation, I recommended to the committee we hold of action on this program for 1 year. During the summer, we will look at ways to improve the current program and sources of funding. Last year, the legislature voted (which I opposed) to sweep $100,000 from this fund to balance the state budget. The fund sweep left the current balance in this fund at $564.05.

On Thursday, HB 1076 passed out of House Taxation by a vote of 13 to 1. This bill will give townships the ability to use their current tax levy for fire protection to include emergency medical services. Many of our local townships had been supporting ambulance services until a judge ruled that it violated state law. I was approached by the President of the Minnehaha Towns and Township Board to sponsor this bill to fix the problem. This bill does not raise taxes, but it allows more flexibility and control at the local level.

In Appropriations, we continued state agency budget hearings. We reviewed budgets for the Department of Corrections, Military and Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services and the Attorney General’s Office.

Despite the Governor’s criminal justice reform initiative, prison populations continue to grow. We are near or at capacity in all of our prison facilities. In order to help address some of the challenges facing our corrections system, the Appropriations Committee will recommend the department go through the LEAN process. The LEAN approach is aimed at waste minimization. The goal is to improve the process used to release and integrate non-violent offenders back into the population and reduce the recidivism rate. The Appropriations Committee has recommended that other departments like BIT and the Department of Revenue complete this process. The results have been encouraging. Each of these departments has improved its customer service and shown an increase in productivity without increasing costs.

Humans Services provided their annual report on provider reimbursement rates for community-based service providers. This year’s appropriation was intended to get providers to 100% of cost. Unfortunately, it appears this reimbursement rate scale is flawed. Providers, like nursing homes, still struggle to pay competitive wages and keep up with rising health care costs. Many nursing homes are contracting with temp-labor agencies to fill vacant positions. Due to low Medicaid reimbursement rates, many nursing homes are turning away high risk patients. Many of these patients end up in facilities out-of-state and away from their families.

The Attorney General’s Office gave a positive report. Last year, the AG forecasted increased costs and the need for additional staff due to reporting requirements from Marsy’s Law. In this year’s budget, Jackley recommended a reduction in spending authority and staff because Marsy’s Law did not have the anticipated increased expenses. Jackley also recommended that we reinstate the Governor’s proposed cuts to Elder Abuse Task Force. The Governor’s cuts include one prosecutor and one investigator. These positions are needed due to an increase in elder fraud cases. This program has been highly effective and in 2017 resulted in restitution of $232,476 from convictions.

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

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2018 SD Legislative Sessions – Dan Ahlers Week 2 Update

dan_ahlersGreetings from Pierre. This week, I will cover a few of the bills that I am bringing this session as well as an update on the Appropriation budget process.

With all the new laws written and approved each session, it is equally important to remove unnecessary laws. In 2005, the state created the South Dakota Beef Program. While this program never really got off the ground, money was put into a Certified Beef Fund to administer this program. Over the last 10 years, the fund has paid auditing fees and has been swept by the legislature to balance the state budget. Today, $564.05 remains in the fund. HB 1089 will repeal this legislation and transfer the remaining money into the Rural Rehabilitation Fund under the Department of Agriculture. The state will continue to maintain the South Dakota Beef trademark and will be able to administer its use through the Department of Agriculture.

During session, legislators often work and vote on bills that cleanup mistakes from previous years or old and redundant language. In HB 1077, I will replace the term “mentally retarded” with “intellectually impaired.” In 2010, Congress passed Rosa’s Law which changed references to “mental retardation” to “intellectually impaired” in federal law. The change comes from the negative use and connotations of the term “mentally retarded.” This term is considered extremely offensive for whom the term is applied.

One of Dennis Daugaard’s priorities during his tenure as governor has been the sale of surplus property. If the state does not have a use for land or a building, it should be sold and returned to the tax roll. The question becomes what is the best use of the money from these sales? Sometimes, the property is held in trust. If trust land is sold, the money from that sale returns to a trust fund under School and Public Lands. The money earned is then used to for the purpose of the trust. For example, when STAR Academy was sold, the proceeds went to a Corrections Trust. Each year, a disbursement from this fund goes to fund the corrections training program.

Last year, we voted to sell surplus property from the Veterans Home in Hot Springs. Because the land is not held in a trust, the money goes to the General Fund. I have introduced HB 1090 to appropriate the money from this land sale to the Michael J. Fitzmaurice Endowment Fund. This fund was created by the South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs to benefit the activities of the veterans at the SD Veteran’s Home. I believe this is the best use of these dollars. If the money remains in the General Fund, we will spend it this year and it will be gone. We can take these same dollars and place them in the endowment. Doing this will cause the endowment and the annual disbursement to grow each year. The money we invest today will continue to serve our veterans long after we have left this earth.

In Appropriations, we continued` state agency budget hearings. We reviewed 10 state agency budgets including Transportation, Revenue, Tourism, and Game, Fish and Parks. Most departments have requested minimal or no increase in spending. The Appropriations Committee is concerned with the governor’s no increase recommendation in wages for state workers. South Dakota lags behind its neighbors in state wages. The state also pays far less than the private sector for similar jobs within the state. This disparity has made it difficult for state agencies to fill vacant positions. With many “Baby Boomers” retiring from the workforce, the problem is compounded. The Appropriations Committee has made it a priority to find the funding to provide some kind of increase this year for state workers.

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

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