Flood of resolutions irks some lawmakers

Spencer Hawley was angry.

“I don’t know where to start,” the Democratic state representative from Brookings said Tuesday on the floor of the House of Representatives. “We spend an hour a day doing these resolutions that do nothing. … Don’t waste our time with something that has no impact on the people of South Dakota.”

Hawley’s outburst came amid a debate about a resolution opposing the Common Core State Standards. And he’s far from the only lawmaker upset this year at the elevated number of nonbinding resolutions, which declare the Legislature’s opinion but don’t carry the force of law.

There’s “a clear sense” that lawmakers have dealt with too many resolutions this year, said House Majority Leader David Lust, R-Rapid City.

Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, said she’s heard complaints from constituents about the time lawmakers spend on resolutions.

“I’ve never seen as many resolutions as I’ve seen this year,” said Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, who has served 20 years on and off in the Legislature since the 1970s.

In fact, this year’s 32 nonbinding resolutions are more than either chamber of the Legislature has seen in any year since 1988.

Of the 32, Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, is responsible for 11.

That’s more than all 35 members of the Senate combined have introduced this year, and more than the combined 70 members of the House — including himself — introduced in 2013.

“It’s my fourth year up here. It’s my final year in the Legislature. These are hot-button issues,” Nelson said.

But Nelson also is a candidate for U.S. Senate, running against four other Republicans for the GOP nomination.

Some lawmakers see his resolutions, on topics ranging from the Affordable Care Act to deficit spending to abortion, as spending the Legislature’s time on political gestures.

“Some people need to stop bringing resolutions that serve their own sole interests only,” said Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, in floor debate Wednesday afternoon on another Nelson resolution, honoring former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Afterward, Nelson called Hajek’s comment “ignorant” and “inappropriate.”

He said his resolutions dealt with serious issues, or matters of concern to voters around the state.

But Nelson also has used his resolutions tactically in the Legislature. After lawmakers go on record endorsing a principle or concept in a resolution, on more than one occasion Nelson has called them out later when they oppose a bill dealing with a similar subject.

“That’s the theory behind some of these resolutions, to build consensus and education to the public and also the Legislature,” Nelson said.

Though Nelson has sponsored more, and more controversial, resolutions than anyone else, he’s not the sole contributor to this year’s swarm.

Even subtracting the Nelson-sponsored resolutions, the rest of the House members have sponsored more than any House since 2005.

The Senate, meanwhile, has just seven resolutions, similar to the six that senators introduced both in 2013 and 2012.

The experience this year of debating and voting on resolutions has lawmakers ready to put a stop to it. Lust said next year’s legislative rules will limit resolutions somehow — possibly moving up the deadline for their submission, or limiting the number each lawmaker can bring forward.

No opposition to bill requiring daily Pledge recitation in schools

Every South Dakota school should say the Pledge of Allegiance daily, lawmakers said Wednesday.

A measure requiring school districts to “provide students the opportunity to salute the United States and the flag each day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance” passed its first committee Wednesday without opposition.

Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, proposed the bill after the Sioux Falls School Board enacted a policy requiring the Pledge daily for elementary and middle school students but excluded high school from the requirement.

That provoked a national backlash and an ultimate reversal by the board, which made the Pledge mandatory for all students.

But on Wednesday, school groups didn’t oppose the Pledge requirement. The Associated School Boards of South Dakota testified in favor, saying its member school boards around the state liked the idea.

"Certain things more important than local control, and this is one of them," said Wade Pogany, executive director of the school board association. "Teaching our children about honoring our flag and honoring our country… is more important than anything else."

There was no testimony against the measure, which passed the House State Affairs Committee unanimously and heads to the full House.

Tags: Hal Wick

School sentinels bill passes committee 5-4

A proposal to let schools arm volunteer “sentinels” to protect against threats is on its way to the South Dakota Senate.

The school sentinels bill, House Bill 1087, passed a key Senate committee 5-4 Friday, and needs only approval from the Senate to head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard to be signed into law.

Under the proposal, school boards could vote to arm sentinels provided local law enforcement approved and the sentinels underwent training with the state.

Rural schools, located far from local law enforcement and without police resource officers, want the proposal’s flexibility, advocates said.

“If we think we’re immune in South Dakota from school violence, we should probably think again,” said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City. “Our local school officials and local school boards need to be making a decision about the security of their schools.”

Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, and other supporters emphasized the local control.

“For the schools that do not want ever to have anybody armed… they should want this bill,” Craig said. “It is this bill that guarantees that they make the decision to never have anyone armed.”

But what Sen. Larry Lucas called “the (key) issue of the 2013 legislative session” has plenty of opponents. Most major school groups testified in opposition, saying the sentinels program was risky and unwanted.

Jeff Marlette, a general in the South Dakota National Guard and the superintendent of the New Underwood School District, lamented that South Dakotans would now ask if “our state has gotten so bad and so dangerous and so unsafe that we must now attend school in an armed fortress.”

Lobbyists for the state’s school boards and school administrators proposed an alternative, to set up a task force studying school security. If that task force recommended school sentinels, they said, they could support it, but saw the current proposal as too rushed.

“This amendment would give you another option to talk about school safety,” said Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “Let’s put a task force together that’s made up of these stakeholders and bring recommendations so school boards could have options to look at.”

But the committee rejected that amendment, with members questioning whether such a task force would produce new mandates and objecting to the last-minute nature of the proposal.

The Senate committee did make several changes to the proposal, notably removing a section added in the House that kept decisions about the sentinels program secret.

Tieszen, the prime sponsor of the bill, endorsed that change.

“This must be a publicly made decision,” Tieszen said.

Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, supports keeping the decision private. He said it would keep would-be attackers in the dark about which schools were and were not defended, and thus provide more protection to everyone.

Once a district has adopted a sentinels program, decisions about it — such as which people were armed — could be made behind closed doors.

Another change might be coming in the full Senate. Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said he’s interested in specifying that voters can refer a decision to create a sentinels program to a public election.

Senate passage isn’t assured, with many lawmakers skeptical. Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, suggested the sentinels bill wasn’t necessary because volunteers could be deputized by their local sheriff to defend the school.

Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, said he likes the concept but has too many unanswered questions.

“If we’re going to do something like this, I need to feel more than reasonably confident that we’ve covered all our bases,” Brown said.

But supporters said the sentinels program is both needed and well-thought-out.

“I don’t think anyone has promoted this as the ultimate solution to the problem we face,” said Rhoden. “But it is a step.”

Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, said it was a good proposal that keeps decisions with local government.

“What I like about this bill is its permissive nature,” Lederman said. “This bill will maximize local control.”

Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, lambasted schools for opposing the local option.

“Do you just want the softballs? Do you just want the easy decisions?” he asked school representatives. “When it gets tough should it come back to the Legislature? Make up your mind.”

The Senate must take action on the sentinels bill by March 5, though it has yet to be scheduled for debate. Because the Senate has amended the version passed by the House earlier this month, the House would then get another vote, to either approve the Senate version or try to negotiate a compromise.

Craig said House members will likely be divided on whether removing the secrecy provision is a good move.

If the Legislature approves the sentinels bill, it will head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who likes the concept and is studying the proposal’s specific details.

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.

More than you ever wanted to know about fiscal notes

The House was well into a debate about House Bill 1142, a health care reform bill opposed by the big hospital systems in the state, when Rep. Jim Bolin rose and hurled a metaphorical wrench.

Bolin invoked Rule 6C-6, which ended up delaying HB 1142 indefinitely.

What’s Rule 6C-6?

Chapter 6C of the Legislature’s joint rules concerns “fiscal notes” — analyses of the projected costs of any particular bill. Here’s a fiscal note for House Bill 1128.

Sometimes fiscal notes can be requested by the bill’s sponsor. But under 6C-1.1, any member can require a fiscal note if they’re supported by at least 20 percent of the house. That’s 14 representatives or 7 senators, not a high bar, and one that the minority party can muster if it holds ranks.

If a request for a fiscal note is supported, legislative staff prepare the fiscal analysis. This can take a few days to prepare.

Or possibly much longer.

One specific type of fiscal note is the “local government fiscal note,” an analysis of the “effect on the revenues, expenditures, or fiscal liability of any political subdivision of the state.”

The local government fiscal note is Rule 6C-6.

Bolin requested a local government fiscal note because, he said, HB 1142 could invalidate health care contracts of many local governments. Therefore, he said, that cost should be understood before the House votes on the bill.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, suggested Bolin’s request was disingenuous. The real purpose of the fiscal note request, Wick said, was to kill HB 1142. That’s because he said it would take a week or more to contact all the various local government entities in the state and get their estimates for the fiscal note. And next week is “Crossover Day,” by which all bills have to pass their house of origin. HB 1142 is required to pass the House by Wednesday, Feb. 20.

Except that the fiscal note rules contain an exception: “However, the request shall not extend final consideration of the bill over two days beyond the last day for passage from the house of origin.”

House Speaker Brian Gosch, the presiding officer of the House, said he interprets that rule as giving HB 1142 an extra two days past Crossover Day to get its fiscal note done and pass the House.

And if the note’s still not done? Gosch said Bolin’s maneuver won’t kill the bill.

"We’ll consider (the bill)," he said.

Bill forbidding Medicaid expansion fails

Gov. Dennis Daugaard is opposed to expanding Medicaid, but he’s also against forbidding South Dakota from expanding Medicaid.

That’s the message that came out Monday, when Daugaard’s administration helped persuade the House State Affairs committee to reject a bill banning a state endorsement of Medicaid.

House Bill 1244, sponsored by Rep. Hal Wick, was a single sentence forbidding South Dakota from expanding Medicaid eligibility up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, as called for under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Wick and television producer Chuck Poppen said the state should pass that bill because expanding Medicaid would be costly to the state and policy.

But Kim Malsam-Rysdon, South Dakota’s secretary of the Department Social Services, said passing the law “only produces more red tape” given that Daugaard already would need legislative approval to expand Medicaid.

Daugaard has opposed expanding Medicaid this year, saying the state needs more information.

An array of organizations supporting Medicaid expansion also testified against the bill.

The committee voted 11-2 to kill HB 1244, with only Reps. Jon Hansen and Mike Verchio opposed.

"I think this is more of a go-on-record bill," said Rep. Kristin Conzet, R-Rapid City. "Right now, this bill is not needed."

After the vote, Wick said he had expected the bill’s defeat.

Another bill still alive, House Bill 1205, would expand Medicaid eligibility, though the Legislature can also expand Medicaid through the general appropriations bill.

Tourism tax passes House

A bill making South Dakota’s tourism surtax permanent has sailed to passage in the state House of Representatives today, heading over to the Senate looking like a “runaway train.”

Just one day after the House Bill 1066 passed out of committee, the full House approved the measure 64-4.

With a large supportive contingent in the House galleries, a series of House members spoke in favor of the measure. Two drew applause for announcing they had switched from opposition to support.

“In the last 24 hours… every question and concern that I raised yesterday in committee has been addressed,” said Rep. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, the lone no vote on HB 1066 on Thursday.

HB 1066 would keep the state’s tourism tax, applied to visitor-related industries such as motels and spectator events in the summer months, at 1.5 percent. If the Legislature doesn’t act, that tax will fall to 1 percent in July.

The roughly $3.3 million the tax raises funds tourism promotion as well as arts, architecture and the state history museum.

Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, said he’s known as an opponent of higher taxes. But he said HB 1066 easily earns his support.

“I support the continuation of this tax because it provides economic expansion,” he said.

Supporters of the bill say the $2.1 million in annual tourism promotion the bill provides brings in many times that in visitor spending and state and local taxes from those tourists.

Even the only speech in opposition, from Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, supported spending the money on tourism promotion. Nelson argued the half-penny tax should be allowed to expire and the money should instead come from the general fund.

Rep. David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said the measure was looking like a “runaway train,” and it now heads to the Senate in the aftermath of its nearly unopposed blitz through the House.

Lust, Gosch & Cronin all reelected as SD House leaders; Wink new speaker pro tem

South Dakota’s sometimes contentious House Republican caucus has reelected most of its top leaders for another two years.

Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, was chosen for a second term as majority leader of the state House Saturday morning at a meeting in Pierre of the recently elected House Republicans.

The current speaker pro tempore, Rep. Brian Gosch of Rapid City, was chosen to be the new Speaker of the House, a traditional promotion for the speaker pro tempore.

UPDATE: The Speaker, of course, is chosen by the full House, but the majority party’s choice almost always carries the day — especially with Republicans holding a supermajority.

The assistant majority leader, Rep. Justin Cronin of Gettysburg, was reelected to his post. So was one of the whips — a junior leadership post — Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City.

Rep. Dean Wink, R-Howes, was elected as the new speaker pro tempore. He beat Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, a current whip who pursued the speaker pro tempore job this time.

Aside from Sly, there were three new leaders elected as whips: Rep. Scott Munsterman, R-Brookings, Rep. Kristin Conzet, R-Rapid City, and Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Sioux Falls.

Conzet has served on the Legislature’s executive board but will be a first-time whip.

Rep. Charlie Hoffman of Eureka, a current whip who won another seat in the Legislature this year, was not elected to a leadership post Saturday.

The House leadership team has a decided West River appearance. Lust, Gosch, Sly and Conzet are all from Rapid City, and Wink lives in Meade County. Cronin lives in the center of the state, and only Hansen and Munsterman live in the Interstate 29 corridor.

Lust predicted the biggest challenges facing the new House leadership team would be budgetary, as they try to grapple with new spending requirements and find money to pay for priorities.

The House Republicans were the last caucus in the South Dakota Legislature to choose their leaders, after the Senate Republicans on Monday and both Democratic caucuses Friday evening. All four caucus leaders from the last legislative session were reelected.

Cleaning out the closet: The last postcards I had stacked up from the dozens you fantastic readers sent in to me. There’s an SDDP attack on Phyllis Heineman, a mailer from Rep. Bob Deelstra, and an SDDP attack on Hal Wick.

And now I’m done blitzing your RSS feed with all these postcards all at once.

Logo parody: Here’s an example of clever graphic design by the Democrats. On the left is a Hal Wick postcard (decrying negative attacks against him), featuring the punny logo he’s used since, I am told, the 1970s: a burning candle.

On the right is a Democratic postcard attacking Wick. It features a burned-out “Wick” candle, wax dribbled down the side, melted and disheveled.

(The Democrats also did this with Manny Steele, who’s featured a construction-y border on his cards. Compare here and here.)

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