Legislative Highlights 10-16-13

Posted October 15, 2013 at 6:05 pm

This week the South Dakota Board of Economic Development met and acted on the final applications pending under the first round of applications for the Economic Development Partnership Program as established under the “Building South Dakota” legislation passed in 2013. The applicants were from two communities in Legislative District 22 (Beadle and Kingsbury Counties), Arlington and De Smet. The Arlington Community Development Corporation applied to fund a new staff person for Arlington’s economic development efforts, and the De Smet Development Corporation applied to move their part time economic development staff to full time. Arlington was approved for $55,000 and De Smet was approved for $42,820. It has been an interesting, and at times, challenging process to get from being a part of crafting legislation to finally seeing the results, especially back in your home legislative district. I look forward to the next stage. That will be the positive impact these state matching investments have on these communities’ local economies, and in turn, the state’s growing economy.

Dick Werner bw.jpg

The largest component of the “Building South Dakota” legislation was an allocation of $2.1 million or 30% of the total fund available for the Workforce Education Fund Program. Funding under this program is available to school districts that have students that qualify for “Limited English Proficiency” (LEP) or often referred to as English as a Second Language or ESL. Students in these districts qualify through an annual language proficiency assessment. If the student scores below 4.0, they are eligible for the 25% or $1,156.41 additional funding to the “Per Student Allocation” (PSA). For this fiscal year, the PSA is $4,625.65 per student for each school district’s official fall enrollment count. The program is administered by the Department of Education.

Growing industries require a growing labor force. In today’s current economic environment this results in many situations where industries bring labor to their communities that their families may not have a full knowledge of the English language. These industries are unable to fill their employment needs within the local workforce. Thus the Workforce Education Fund Program funds LEP helping the local school districts with their additional needs during their community’s transition.

The Workforce Education Fund will provide funding for the first time this fiscal year. 87 (or 58%) of the 151 school districts in the state will receive funding. The Sioux Falls district is the largest recipient and the Huron district the second largest recipient. Legislative District 22 school districts that will be aided this year are: Arlington (receiving $3,469), Hitchcock ($12,721), Iroquois ($5,782), Oldham-Ramona ($13,877), and Huron ($578,206).

It’s my pleasure to serve as your State Representative. Feel free to contact me at 350-1371 or by email at dickwerner_5@hotmail.com.


Legislative Highlights

In May of 2013 the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) entered into a contract with South Dakota’s Legislative Executive Board to conduct a “Management and Performance Audit” of the Legislature’s Legislative Research Council (LRC). You will recall that it is the function of the LRC to consider legislative policies between Legislative Sessions. The Audit was allegedly performed because “ the effectiveness of the work product of the LRC was under scrutiny by an increasingly active, demanding, attentive and often dissatisfied contingent of legislators”.

So what does this “critical report” that cost South Dakota taxpayers thousands of dollars conclude? Basically that, “LRC employees are talented professionals who are dedicated to their work. Many of them have been employed by the LRC for decades.” NCSL staff interviewed each LRC employee and found them to be “the kind of highly skilled, hard-working professional experts that are common to state legislative workplaces. Most South Dakota state legislators agree that the LRC staff members are good at what they do”. A very positive performance review, I’d say.

However, in the Audit NCSL staff identified several management and performance problems among LRC staff and a few select members of the Legislature that have created misunderstandings and a break down of trust. Those factors include:

• The impact of term limits, short session length and a long interim on staff/legislator relations;

• The absence of consistent oversight of and knowledge about LRC activities by the Legislature;

• The lack of effective employee performance standards and accountability;

• A laissez faire approach to staff leadership and management at the LRC;

• A predominant culture at LRC that often does not complement the demands of legislators and the Legislature; and

• The smallest legal/research/fiscal/computer staff size of any of the 50 states.

The NCSL report concludes that if the LRC has major problems, those problems exist mainly because South Dakotans passed term limits in 1992. “Term limits began to take effect in South Dakota in 2000, and it probably is no coincidence that a decade or so later problems have started to crop up between the LRC and legislators. Prior to term limits, the LRC could more easily develop long-standing relationships with key legislators who knew the process, understood the LRC and who developed a collegial sense of shared purpose with LRC staff. Term limits changed most of that”.

In addition, NCSL’s staff interviews with legislators revealed a fairly broad misunderstanding or lack of information about the LRC among both rank and file members and legislative leaders. They concluded that many members did not understand that the LRC is exclusively a legislative agency and that its staff are employed by the Legislature, not by the executive branch.