Legislative Highlights 10-2-13

Posted October 1, 2013 at 6:40 pm


As I write my weekly column, we face the possibility of a federal government shutdown and the uncertainty if a new farm bill will be passed. Both outcomes will be known at the time of your reading of this column with the federal government fiscal year concluding on September 30th. My hopes would be that we can avoid a government shutdown and that a new farm bill will be passed, both are questionable with the gridlock we are facing in D.C. I wrote in my column during the federal sequestration that D.C. could take some lessons from South Dakota. That comment still holds true.

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One of the positive pieces of legislation brought by the South Dakota Legislature in the 2013 Legislative Session was the bipartisan bill known as “Building South Dakota” or Senate Bill 235. Two programs that were implemented with the passage of this legislation are administered by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) with final approval by the South Dakota Board of Economic Development (SDBED). These programs are the “Local Infrastructure Improvement Program” and the “Economic Development Partnership Program”.

The first round of applications for these two programs was acted on at the SDBED meeting held this month in Watertown. I attended the meeting and following are the results. The “Local Infrastructure Improvement Program” is funded at $1,750,000 for the state fiscal year 2014 which began July 1. The SDBED considered eight applications and approved three. Grants were awarded in the amounts of $400,000 to Brookings County for road and infrastructure improvements for a corn processing facility west of Aurora, $50,300 to the city of Alexandria for extending utilities for a manufacturing business, and $244,537 to the city of Sturgis for extending utilities for a new wine production facility. This will leave just over $1 million for grants in 2014.

The “Economic Development Partnership Program” has $1,050,000 available for 2014 fiscal year grants. A total of 13 applications were considered and four were approved and three were tabled. The matching (50%-50%) grants were awarded to the economic development corporations in Belle Fourche ($103,000), Bison ($32,700), and the Southern Hills ($56,900) to add or create staffing. Grow SD, a state wide organization, received a revolving loan fund grant for $100,000. This will leave just over $750 thousand for matching grants in 2014. The DeSmet and Arlington applications were tabled and I look forward to the SDBED acting favorably on them at their October meeting. The next application deadline for both programs is October 31st and will be considered at the SDBED December meeting.

Thank you for your interest in state government. It is my honor to represent you. I look forward to hearing from you at 350-1371 or by email at dickwerner_5@hotmail.com.

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This past week our South Dakota Legislative Research Council (LRC), the smallest central, nonpartisan legislative staff agency in the nation, received the results of a study of the staff operations by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The NCSL contracted with the Executive Board of the South Dakota Legislature this summer to conduct a “Management and Performance Audit”.

Individual Legislators were tasked with filling out a survey and returning it to NCSL prior to June 21st, 2013. Questions asked were in the following categories: issue research, bill drafting, amendment drafting, budget analysis, fiscal notes, rules review, computer services, library resources and committee support. Several Legislators were interviewed either in person or by telephone. I filled out my survey and also participated in a telephone interview with NCSL staff.

The review was intended to better define the mission and purpose of the LRC and to explore hiring partisan staff members. The total cost of the study is $35,599 to be split between the State of South Dakota ($18,816) and NCSL ($16,783). Democrat members serving on the Executive Board were opposed to the “Management and Performance Audit” as it was seen as an attempt to make the LRC a partisan organization supporting the Republican Party’s agenda, and because Republican leadership, on the last regular day of the 2013 Session, added a $500,000 amendment to the LRC’s budget in the General Appropriations Bill without public testimony or communication with the Democrats.

Some of the appropriated money was used this summer by Republican Legislators to attend out-of-state meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council. And now, based on the audit, there will be increased spending to add four new staff members to the LRC. In addition, the audit allows the Republican legislators to direct the nonpartisan LRC staff to be regular members of the closed-door Republican Party caucuses. Plus, there’s the cost of the study itself.

Overall the audit report said most legislators agree the Legislative Research Council staff members are good at what they do but “something has changed in recent years” (like 2010. . .) and its work product is “under scrutiny by an increasingly active, demanding, attentive and often dissatisfied contingent of legislators.” The report further states that “It also is clear that while some legislators remain satisfied with the LRC performance, there is room at the LRC for improvement.”

However, keep in mind that many Legislators did not complete the survey for the review. Of 35 senators, 15 Republicans and three Democrats participated. Of the 70 House members, 19 Republicans and 13 Democrats participated. The Senate has 27 Republicans and seven Democrats, while the House has 53 Republicans and 17 Democrats. That’s 48%. What about the other 55 Legislators?

Legislative Highlights

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