An unusually high amount of available cash and proposed laws concerning medical and recreational marijuana are expected to be top issues this legislative session.
The American News reached out to legislators in both Aberdeen and Watertown in recent weeks to get a sense of what legislators would be dealing with when session starts next week.
Session begins Tuesday with the State of the State address by Gov. Kristi Noem, who provided her budget address to legislators in December when she highlighted her spending priorities.
District 4 Rep. Fred Deutsch said the legislature has heard the governor’s recommendations and now it’s up to them to determine if that’s how the funding will be spent.
“It’s going to be overwhelming with the amount of federal funding coming in,” he said.
District 5 Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, said with $970 million available that needs to be spent in the next four years, plus additional one-time funding, it’s going to be the single-biggest session for appropriations.
Much of the funding available is possible through federal COVID relief money received by the state. And while many projects and directions have been identified for funding, Aberdeen legislators say they’ll be paying close attention to funding for the replacement of the Richmond Lake spillway and Lincoln Hall at Northern State University.
Noem recommended allocating $6.5 million to the replacement of the Richmond Spillway. With spillways on Lake Mina and Elm Lake currently being replaced this year, this would be the third multi-million dollar spillway replacement project for the area and the second for the state’s School and Public Lands department.
Another $29.5 million was recommended for Northern University, where officials hope to tear down Lincoln and Briscoe halls and build a Business and Innovation Center.
Noem also announced in her budget $1.5 billion in combined local, state and federal funding, that would be available for water projects.
While this funding will help with those projects, including a possible pipeline from the Missouri River to Aberdeen, District 3 Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said that extra funding also comes with a downside. A flood of spending from South Dakota and other states will put extra pressure on the manufacturing of products in a market that already has a limited supply, he said.
“The price of pipe is skyrocketing. They can’t make pipe fast enough, so product prices will go even higher,” he said.
Novstrup said he supports the pipeline, expected to be a joint venture between WEB Water, BDM and the city of Aberdeen, but the downside to having all this funding available, and the need to spend it in a short amount of time, is the potential for project costs to increase.
Legislators expecting dozens of recreational, medical marijuana bills
Legislators also expect to address several bills proposing changes to medical marijuana laws. A bill proposing the legalization of recreational marijuana is also expected.
District 1 Sen. Michael Rohl, R-Aberdeen, said he will be the prime sponsor in the senate for the recreational marijuana bill.
The bill represents the plan approved by the summer committee tasked to study the issue of medical and recreational marijuana. While the plan approved by the committee isn’t perfect, he said, it is the one that met with majority approval.
Rohl said the biggest difference between this bill and Amendment A, which was approved by voters but later deemed unconstitutional, is there’s no provision that allows individuals to grow a limited number of plants at home for personal use.
While many bills related to both recreational and medical marijuana are being introduced as a result of the summer study, Rohl said he expects some bills that didn’t meet with committee approval, like one that allows for a home grow option.
District 3 Rep. Carl Perry, who also sat on the marijuana summer study along with Deutsch, said there could be up to 40 bills related to medical or recreational marijuana. Of those, 37 propose changes to the medical marijuana regulations. As an example, he said, one proposes expanding who could provide a prescription to include not only medical doctors, but also physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners.
Deutsch said another bill proposes some greater local control when it comes to allowing dispensaries in a community. Right now ,state law requires communities to allow for at least one. Deutsch said he expects proposed legislation that would give cities the ability to pass on having a dispensary in their community at all.
Deutsch said he also expects legislation that would propose local control options when it comes to medical marijuana use in schools.
Legislators eye various measures from COVID-19 vaccines to AP classes
One bill expected to be sponsored by Novstrup in the senate and Deutch in the house is a bill about vaccines. Deutch said it’s not an anti-vaccine bill, but it gives an employee who is required by his or her employer to receive a vaccine the ability to sue an employer if health complications arise as a result of the vaccine.
Novstrup said the bill applies only to non-FDA certified vaccines.
Rohl said he’d like to introduce a bill that looks at some form of control effort for zebra mussels, which have been found in some South Dakota lakes. One idea he had was establishing geofencing around the lakes where zebra mussels have been found so boaters receive an alert when they leave the lake. That alert lets them know their craft needs cleaning. Geofencing is a type of virtual perimeter.
Rohl said he also has plans to introduce two other bills. One would criminalize hazing as South Dakota is one of four states that don’t criminalize this activity. The other bill would propose expanded access to dual credit and AP courses. Rohl said students must meet GPA requirements to take dual credit or AP courses in high school, and state funding covers part of the course cost, but he’s run into a couple instances where students who don’t meet those requirements, and are willing to pay the full cost of the course, have been denied access.
Rohl said there should be some flexibility in a student’s ability to take the class, especially if they are willing to pay 100% of the cost to take the class.
Rohl and District 3 Rep. Drew Dennert both mentioned they’d like to see some sales tax revenue directed to counties. Rohl’s idea involves taking some of the sales tax revenue from marijuana sales and directing 5% to counties. Projected sales tax revenue in the first year is expected to meet or exceed $20 million.
Dennert said his proposal is similar to a proposal he made in the 2021 session and would propose that a portion of sales tax revenue be directed to counties without increasing the state sales tax.
Schoenbeck said he’d like to introduce legislation proposing an increase in the partners in education program. This program allows insurance providers to collectively contribute up to $2 million to assist low-income students who want to attend faith-based schools. Schoenbeck said he wants to increase that upper limit to $3.4 million.
“It saves the state several million dollars a year,” he said. “I’m in favor of educational opportunities for all families. As a state, we benefit the more families we get educated.”
Cracker barrels planned
Legislative cracker barrels are planned for both the Aberdeen and Watertown areas.
In Aberdeen, the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce has three planned on Jan. 29, Feb. 12 and March 5. All begin at 10 a.m. and will be in the Kessler’s Champions Club in the Barnett Center on Northern State University’s campus. In previous years, cracker barrel sessions have been in the student union, so this is a change in location.
The sessions will also be live-streamed at www.dakotabroadcasting.com. Legislators from Districts 1, 2, 3 and 23 are invited to attend.
Two cracker barrels are planned in Watertown for legislators in Districts 4 and 5. One is hosted by the Watertown Chamber of Commerce at the Winter Farm Show at 8 a.m. on Feb. 12. in the sale ring.
The other is March 5 during the Home Show, which is organized by the Watertown Home Builders Association. The cracker barrel is at 10 a.m. in the lunchroom area of the Codington County Extension Complex. Attendees should use the north entrance. There is no cost to attend the cracker barrel, but admission is charged for the home show.