PIERRE — The Legislature returns today for its first, last and only week of five working days to bring the main run of the 2013 session to a close. Here’s a quick look at some of the key topics during the final week:
The nine senators and nine representatives who form the Joint Committee on Appropriations meet this morning to set revenue estimates for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which runs through June 30, and the 2014 fiscal year that starts July 1 of this year. Those forecasts will be used for revising state government’s current budget and for setting the 2014 budget. It’s unpredictable whether the committee can get all of that done before close of business Thursday, so that the budgets are ready for final votes by the House and Senate on Friday, the final day of the 2013 session’s main run.
The proposed general-education levies for the coming year would go down for agricultural property and go up for owner-occupied homes and commercial property. Gov. Dennis Daugaard's administration is also seeking an increase in the special education levy. Meanwhile, Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, wants the Legislature to designate a fourth class of property for general-education levy purposes called leased residential, aka rental housing, which would set the stage for rental property to someday be taxed at a lower rate than standard commercial. There are three bills in play here, and what happens this session will significantly affect 2014 decisions.
A proposed bill 22 pages long was privately circulated among legislators last week, and the Republican and Democratic leaders from the House and the Senate unveiled it Thursday at a joint news conference. The plan will probably be amended into an existing bill today in the House State Affairs Committee. The full House will need to vote on it no later than Tuesday, unless the rules are suspended.
From the House, the legislation will return to the Senate for a decision. There likely are more amendments coming, and the final word from Daugaard is yet to be said. In theory, it will offer tax breaks to big business projects and will dedicate various funds to other purposes, such as public infrastructure related to new projects, housing development, workforce training, local economic development staff assistance and school aid for students whose second language is English.
This package ties together a variety of legislation first proposed as individual pieces by Rep. Scott Munsterman, R-Brookings; Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron; Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner; Sen. Jim White, R-Huron; and Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center. The House and Senate leaders from both parties also contributed ideas, as did the governor and his staff.
House members killed two of the proposed sets of reforms from the Legislature’s teen-driving task force. Still in play is a ban on drivers younger than 18 using handheld communication devices of any type. The House will vote today. House members earlier turned it into a secondary offense, meaning drivers couldn’t be pulled over just because they were seen using a cellphone or smartphone. If the House does pass the bill like that, it must go back to the Senate for another vote. Meanwhile, it's possible that Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, might try to revive his general ban against drivers texting, but that would require a lot of maneuvering in a House that's not looking very supportive.
This could be turning into a bad year to be a coyote. Three bills are pending that would raise more money for animal damage control by the state Wildlife Division. Two come from Rep. Betty Olson, R-Prairie City, to add a $1 surcharge to hunting licenses and to increase the livestock taxes that county commissions can levy. The third from Senate Republican leader Russ Olson of Wentworth seeks $300,000 to jump-start ADC efforts this spring.
Two important pieces of legislation are still pending. One would authorize bonding for a new sewer system at Angostura recreation area and for shoreline repairs at Cedar Shore along the Missouri River at Oacoma. The other would pay for more work at the new Good Earth state park south of Sioux Falls at the historic Blood Run site, as well as authorize a new visitor center at Custer State Park and a connector between the Mickelson Trail and Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
So far, the governor hasn’t issued any. The final day of the session is set for March 25 to consider vetoes and to wrap up any last business.