Some have commented that this past legislative session was unusual. I would have to agree and I have struggled to figure out exactly what made it so different. After further thought, I think I have reached some tentative answers.
As we headed to Pierre in January, at the federal level the partisan division, continuous attacks, and lack of action were front and center. Even when the majority of the country was pleading with our federal leaders to reach an answer, very few were willing to try.
I think many of us who represent South Dakota at the state level wanted to make sure that the same wouldn’t be true of our actions. Many of us arrived in Pierre with the distinct attitude that we would approach our responsibilities differently, and whenever possible, try to find ways to work together, be it Republican and Democrat, urban and rural, or East River and West River.
I think to a large degree that was accomplished. Two of the bigger pieces of legislation were SB 70 (the criminal justice initiative) and SB 235 (the Building SD economic development initiative). In many normal years, both of these efforts would have been controversial. Yet from the very beginning on both of those efforts, representatives from both parties sat down together to craft the bills. I believe both efforts were better because of that. These are probably two of the more major efforts attempted in the last couple of decades and I believe they will help redefine our state for the better in the coming years.
There were a handful of other specific bills that attracted a lot of attention. There was a bill dealing with the apportionment of the bank franchise tax and there was another bill dealing with non-meandered waters. Although final resolution wasn’t reached during the legislative session, in both cases the opposing parties agreed to sit down and work out a compromise over the next year.
I cannot pretend that everyone will be thrilled with every decision made during this past legislative session. However, I do hope that the approach that was taken this year will follow on in subsequent years. While DC still has yet to address the substantial problems facing this country, South Dakota can be proud that we have balanced the budget for the 124th year in a row, we were able to achieve significant reforms in criminal justice and economic development, and we did it together.
The legislature will meet for one last day on March 25 to consider any vetoes that the Governor may issue. After that, we will move to the interim schedule where I am sure there will be a few “summer studies” adopted to discuss issues before the next legislative session.