Insurance reform, bank regulation and legislator expense bills pass House

Bills touching on health insurance plans, bank regulation and legislator expenses passed South Dakota’s House of Representatives Wednesday.

All three bills saw spirited debate and close votes as the House raced to meet today’s deadline for approving all its bills. They all now head to the Senate, which has to approve them before they can become law.

The closest vote came on House Bill 1212, increasing the daily expense allowance for legislators from $110 per day to the federal employee rate for South Dakota, currently $123 per day.

Rep. David Novstrup said the legislator expense rate hadn’t been raised for 13 years, and that better compensating lawmakers for their expenses would make it easier for people who aren’t wealthy to serve in the Legislature.

Several opponents said lawmakers shouldn’t increase their compensation before giving raises to other groups, such as teachers or state employees.

The bill passed 36-33, the bare minimum number of votes needed for passage.

HB 1212 was relatively straightforward, but the other two measures passed before the House went into recess for an hour Wednesday dealt with complicated subjects that had lawmakers asking questions.

One would have required insurers to accept medical providers located outside their networks. That measure, House Bill 1142, was pitched as promoting “patient choice.”

“Let the patient decide where they want to go,” said Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls.

Opponents said it actually hurt patient choice and would drive up costs.

Rep. Spencer Hawley, D-Brookings, said people right now can choose between a cheap health plan with a limited network and a pricier plan with a bigger network. He said HB 1142 would remove that option and force everyone to pay more.

HB 1142 passed 39-30.

The third bill, giving the secretary of the Department of Revenue authority to write rules governing how the state’s bank tax is collected.

Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, said the proposal would let the state react to changing conditions in the banking industry and keep its bank taxes fair.

The bank tax bill, House Bill 1045, passed 43-26.

Representatives also debated a fourth bill, letting the unborn children of undocumented immigrants receive prenatal care, but before it could be voted on opponents requested an analysis of the cost to the state of this change.

Under the Legislature’s rules, staff now have two days to come up with that analysis.

With several big bills touching on economic development and abortion still on the agenda, the House then recessed for an hour so lawmakers could discuss those issues in closed party caucuses.