Legislators prepare for crunch time


PIERRE (AP) – Legislators are facing possible late nights this week as a major deadline looms for bills to make it out of the chamber where they were first introduced.

For lawmakers, it will be the last chance to gain momentum for their proposals. But they will also have to work quickly. House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a Platte Republican, said on Friday that over 100 bills await a committee hearing and some bills have yet to be assigned to a committee.

Lawmakers will consider bills that aim to take away collective bargaining from employees of the Board of Regents; consider the attorney general’s proposal to roll back a program that requires judges to sentence low-level felons to probation rather than prison; and try to move negotiations forward on a tight budget.

Several high-profile bills such as Gov. Kristi Noem’s revamp of “riot boosting” laws, her proposal to streamline county permits for feedlots and other projects, and the legalization of industrial hemp, will likely be put on the back burner while legislators focus on clearing other bills.

Board of Regents

Both the House and the Senate are considering bills that would limit employees of the Board of Regents from collective bargaining. Lawmakers who feel university faculty are too independent from the rest of state government have raised the issue perennially, but this year’s Senate bill has the backing of several influential Republicans.

Opponents of the bill say collective bargaining is essential to maintaining the independence and intellectual freedom that is important in universities.

A Senate committee is scheduled to tackle that issue on Monday morning.

Presumptive probation

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg campaigned on a promise to get rid of presumptive probation, which is a program that requires judges to sentence low-level felons to probation rather than prison. He was unsuccessful in getting it repealed last year, mostly due to concerns about increased prison populations.

But he’s back this year with a compromise that would disqualify people from presumptive probation if they do not cooperate with law enforcement investigations and if they have more than two offenses in a 10-year period.

“Anything that will continue to increase prison population is going to be subject to pretty intense scrutiny in the debate process,” Sen. Jim Bolin, a Canton Republican, said.

South Dakota already had a high rate of incarceration compared to neighboring states. The women’s prison is near capacity and lawmakers were concerned that rolling back presumptive probation could mean sending prisoners out of state.

Budget

Legislative leaders said they would continue to watch the budget closely. Republicans said they would be looking for funding to expand a mental health hotline to every corner of the state, while Democrats said their primary goal remains to fund pay increases for teachers, state employees and service providers.

Lawmakers settled on revenue projections last week that were $19 million higher than what Noem predicted in December. But the budget will still be tight.

Democrats are pushing a proposal to put the $32 million made from the state’s education trust fund this year into the general fund. That would free up money to fund the pay increases, but they will have to convince fiscally conservative Republicans to back the idea.

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