Legislative roundup: Flush with cash
Derek Johnson, state economist with the governor’s Bureau of Finance and Management, and LRC Chief Fiscal Analyst Jeff Mehlhaff (left to right) present to the Revenue Projection Subcommittee Tuesday evening in Pierre. (Makenzie Huber, South Dakota Searchlight)
This week in Pierre was a reminder that despite tense debates over cattle branding, elections, and vaccines, the business of state government – and the work of lawmakers – is tied tightly to the state budget.
Competing revenue estimates landed at the Capitol on Tuesday during the day and into the evening, with our own Makenzie Huber on the ground for the ensuing discussion.
The short story? There’s a lot of cash in state coffers.
The Joint Appropriations Committee had a few numbers to choose from, but ultimately adopted a $2.3 billion estimate for the rest of the current fiscal year – an 8.2% jump over last year.
The big numbers have some lawmakers thinking tax cuts, and there’s quite a list of options. Gov. Noem’s favored proposal is a food tax repeal, via House Bill 1075. That bill’s alive and awaits a committee hearing next week in the Senate. Some other ideas – compromises from Democrats that would have cut the tax, not repeal it, for example – died in committee this week.
Also gone? HB 1159, which would have exempted feminine hygiene products from the state’s sales tax.
One significant tax bill is already law, thanks to Noem’s signature on Feb. 1. That one cuts unemployment costs for employers. Unemployment rates hit record lows in 2022.
Watch our website in the coming days for a story from Makenzie on GOP leadership’s evolving approach to tax reform.
Here’s a look at some of the other bills we’ve been tracking.
Carbon pipelines: A Senate committee torpedoed a House-backed bill to write carbon out of eminent domain law, which allows companies to buy or use land for a project in the public interest regardless of how a landowner feels about it. HB 1133 would have removed the option of eminent domain for two carbon pipeline projects that aim to cut through South Dakota, which could have killed the projects unless the backers earned the support of each and every landowner along the route.
Foreign ag land purchases: House Majority Leader Will Mortenson’s HB 1189, which requires the reporting of foreign agricultural land ownership, sailed through the House on Monday. A Gov. Noem-backed bill to create a “Committee on Foreign Investment,” Senate Bill 185, passed out of committee. Searchlight’s Josh Haiar will be in Pierre next week for the floor debate on that one.
Bar exam bill bounces: HB 1076, Rep. Mary Fitzgerald’s attempt to create an apprenticeship program as an alternative path to bar admission for USD Law grads, was pulled at her request on Tuesday. The Unified Judicial System is working on alternatives through a study committee.
Opioid harm reduction: HB 1041 continued its march to the governor’s desk this week, passing through the full Senate without a single no vote. The bill would legalize fentanyl test strips, which can detect the presence of the sometimes-deadly synthetic opioid in other drugs.
Pro-America history: HB 1070, which would create a “Center for American Exceptionalism” in the Black Hills for the creation and dissemination of supplemental U.S. history curricula, earned an 8-1 endorsement from the House Appropriations Committee after being amended.
Ag nuisance lawsuits: These will be more difficult to win if HB 1090 becomes law. It’s one step closer, having gotten a 4-1 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. It’s already passed the House. A Senate floor vote comes next.
County seats: SB 56 would make it harder to move a county seat. The House and Senate both signed off on the bill this week, after some revisions from the House Local Government Committee last week. Next stop: the governor’s desk.
Drag shows: HB 1116 would bar state resources “in hosting lewd or lascivious content.” It came after a dust-up over a drag show at South Dakota State University billed as kid-friendly. HB 1116 was amended to scrub explicit references to drag shows and passed 60-10 out of the House on Wednesday. Now it’s on to a Senate committee. Another bill on the topic was tabled earlier this week.
Vaccines: HB 1235 would have offered a way out of vaccine mandates for people with strongly held beliefs on the subject. That one passed a House committee 7-6 this week but died 39-30 on the House floor. Another bill dealing with vaccines in school children, SB 125, died in committee on Wednesday.
Lobbyist spouses: A bill barring the spouses of lawmakers from acting as lobbyists, SB 197, advanced out of the Senate on Valentine’s Day. The bill was an outgrowth of the controversy over the behavior of Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller and her husband, who is a registered lobbyist for South Dakota Citizens for Liberty. Frye-Mueller was censured this month over comments she made to a Legislative Research Council staffer. Next up for SB 197: a House committee.
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