Looking Back On A Successful Legislative Session
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard
Friday, March 10, was the last day of the main run of the 2017 Legislative Session. Although the session was more “low profile” than in some past years, we can all be proud of our legislators’ hard work.
South Dakota balances its budget every year, and the Legislature overcame very slow revenue growth to pass a structurally balanced budget again this year. I was very pleased that we were also able to find a way to offer small inflationary increases to K-12 schools and many Medicaid providers.
Perhaps the most important legislation this year received the least attention: a package of bills relating to the South Dakota Retirement System. Unlike many states, South Dakota’s pension plan is 100 percent funded. This year, retirement system trustees unanimously recommended legislation to secure our strong footing decades into the future – and it passed the Legislature with bipartisan support and only five dissenting votes.
The Legislature also kept its commitment to South Dakota voters to deal with IM 22, which a judge enjoined from taking effect due to its numerous constitutional problems. A package of replacement bills includes a bipartisan bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Karen Soli to create a Government Accountability Board to investigate ethics complaints. Other bills reinstated a ban on gifts from lobbyists to elected officials, new whistleblower protections and enhanced ability to prosecute conflict-of-interest cases.
We also took action to confront the scourge of meth. We are adding more treatment capacity for meth addicts, imposing tougher penalties on probationers or parolees who use drugs, educating young people about the dangers of meth and encouraging first-time drug offenders to complete treatment to break the cycle of abuse.
A task force convened by the Chief Justice brought important legislation to help our state do a better job of identifying and responding to mental health issues in the criminal justice system. This will allow counties to handle these cases more quickly and avoid lengthy, unnecessary, expensive jail stays for those affected.
The Legislature also approved the construction of a new state animal diagnostic and research lab at South Dakota State University. This lab is crucial to protecting our public safety and our state’s livestock industry. I was very pleased that the ag community and legislators found a way to finance this project, despite the tough budget year, without using new state general funds.
We also made progress in open government. BoardsAndCommissions.SD.gov will become a mandatory portal for all state boards and commissions to post their meeting notices, agenda, minutes and other materials. The Legislature also approved the public release of police booking photos, or “mugshots,” for felony cases.
Many other important pieces of legislation passed this year: bills allowing for the sale of state lands and buildings that are no longer needed, a bill to strengthen laws to respond to a potential protest emergency, legislation to create a new Board of Technical Education, and a bill to improve primary care, especially in rural areas, through more independence for nurse practitioners.
Our legislators accomplished all of that, and much more, in just nine short weeks. South Dakotans can be proud that we have a part-time, citizen Legislature. They are not “career politicians.” This session, the average state legislator had four years of legislative experience, and 29 of the 105 had never served in the Legislature at all. They are our friends and neighbors, and they take time away from their jobs and families to come to Pierre and serve our state.
If you see one of our state legislators in the next few weeks, please thank them for their hard work and for a job well done.