Legislative Highlights 10-9-13

Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:30 pm


The Washington D.C. gridlock has elevated as I suspected in my last week’s column. We not only do not have a new farm bill, in addition the Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices are closed for access to our local ag producers due to the federal government furlough. Hopefully this situation will be resolved by the time you read this column through a bipartisan compromise.

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I am going to continue with the “Building South Dakota” bipartisan legislation that was passed in the 2013 legislative session. This legislation provides new economic development tools to local communities along with regional and statewide organizations to help grow their own economies which in turn will grow South Dakota’s economy.

In prior columns, I discussed the “Local Infrastructure Improvement Grant” and the “Economic Development Partnership” which have been successfully launched by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) with the first round of applications processed. The next application period deadline is October 31st. These two programs have proved to be a valuable tool in assisting communities with their infrastructure funding needs for business development or expansion. The partnership program also provides matching funding for dedicated staffing necessary to work on development projects.

The “Housing Opportunity Fund” is another program of “Building South Dakota” that was launched to help with housing needs in our state. Many communities in our state have labor shortages and they are unable to fill these positions as workers and their families are unable to find adequate housing. The program will receive 25% from the ongoing funding sources and received a $1.75 million dollar appropriation for the current fiscal year.

The program is administered by the South Dakota Housing Development Authority (SDHDA) and is to provide grant, loan, loan guarantee, loan subsidy, and other financial assistance for eligible applicants. Money from the fund may be used to build, buy, and/or rehabilitate affordable housing for rent or home ownership including single family and multifamily housing. The funds are targeted to maximum income levels for households. For example, in Beadle County that would be annual earnings not to exceed $55,085 for a two person household and for a four person household $68,770. Kingsbury County would be $55,660 for two person and $69,575 for four person. The program provides for a good opportunity to develop workforce housing.

The first round of applications closed on October 1st. Twenty one applications were received for a total dollar volume requested of $2.9 million. Six applications came from communities of under 5,000 in population, eight from communities over 5,000, and seven from statewide or regional programs. The SDHDA Commission will act on these applications at their November meeting.

Feel free to contact me at 350-1371 or by email at dickwerner_5@hotmail.com.

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William Shakespeare’s quote, “Much Ado About Nothing” exemplifies the latest expenditure by dominant party members of the Legislature’s Executive Board. Spending $35,599 to conduct a “Management and Performance Audit” by the National Conference of State Legislatures of our under-funded and under-staffed Legislative Research Council constitutes a wasteful and nonproductive appropriation of taxpayer’s dollars. In addition, only 48% of South Dakota Legislators participated in the NCSL audit.

Here are some of the findings. South Dakota’s Legislative Research Council’s staff is the smallest in the nation with 22 members. Idaho’s legislature has about the same number of members as ours, yet 36 staffers are employed to support their legislators. Utah’s legislature elects one less legislator than South Dakota, but its legislative staff numbers 85. And, by a wide margin, South Dakota spends less on its legislature than any other state in the nation. (We rank 50th.) Wyoming ranks 49th, but spends almost double the amount on its legislature: SD-$4,393,000; WY-$8,680,000. Based solely on these figures, just like in education, South Dakota’s legislators have received top-notch service without paying for it.

After studying the “Management and Performance Audit”, I became curious about the origins of our LRC, so I contacted Reuben Bezpaletz, the Chief Analyst of Research and Legal Services. Reuben, who has faithfully assisted Legislators with legal research and advice as well as bill drafting at our LRC for over four decades, supplied the following information about South Dakota’s LRC:

The real creator of the LRC was Dr. W.O. Farber, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of South Dakota for several decades. One of the most dynamic and inspiring professors in USD history, he did more to encourage and educate three generations of public servants than anyone in our state’s history.

In 1951, at a time when the Legislature had no staff resources, Dr. Farber gathered together several professors and graduate students who VOLUNTEERED to come to Pierre during the then biennial session in order to assist legislators in research and bill drafting. Patterned after the Legislative Council of Oklahoma, the South Dakota’s LRC includes every legislator in its membership. Supervision of the Council’s work is vested by law in the Executive Board of fifteen members, seven from the House and six from the Senate, elected by the respective houses before the close of the session in each odd-numbered year. In addition, the two legislators chosen as Speaker of the House and President Pro-tem of the Senate in odd-numbered years serve as ex officio voting members of the Board. The Board elects its own chair and vice chairperson. During Legislative Sessions the LRC staff members report to the presiding officers of the House and Senate.

By 1955, the Legislature, realizing for the first time how important professional staffing was to

Legislative Highlights

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