Mills: Lawmakers debate money, marijuana

Legislative report

As predicted, money and marijuana dominated the discussions and debates of the week.

By week's end HB1100, relating to medical marijuana, passed the House. The bill starts by identifying a series of 15 findings of “facts to be true.” These “facts” outline the current situation and identify the challenges and problems ahead that must be resolved in order to implement medical marijuana in South Dakota. Not the least of these findings is that the Health Department was assigned the job of implementing the law, but finds itself under-staffed and overworked due to the on-going Covid pandemic.

What the bill does is delay implementation of the law by six months, until Jan. 1, 2022. It also sets deadlines for further steps such as issuing registration cards for qualifying patients, creating a verification system and establishing the rules that will guide patients and businesses through the system. To assist with all of this it establishes a 21 member committee made up of various stake-holders including legislators, law enforcement, medical professionals, those who promoted the initiated measure and even a patient with a debilitating condition who intends to use medical marijuana. It will be a large committee with a big task.

You likely know that I did not support the medical marijuana initiative. I did however vote for this bill because the voters clearly said they want it and this bill establishes the parameters to help us set up the best system possible. HB1100 now heads to the Senate for their consideration.

Money, in various forms was also debated all week. While there is a surplus larger than anyone can remember, there seems to be an unending list of ways we could spend it. Everybody has an idea – or 12. It seems all of the ideas have price tags in the millions.

From my perspective, what is missing so far seems to be a willingness to save some money. We debated establishing a new trust fund that I believe has merit. It would put money  into a fund now, and would also require that a percentage of future unexpected cash would be added, any year that we have extra. The fund was projected to earn 6% interest (based on 20 years of our history) and most of the interest would be available to meet ongoing needs. The idea is similar to the trust funds we have already, that have grown and now are estimated to contribute $43 million next fiscal year.

We need more of the stability and income growth that this kind of savings program could give us. It could easily help avoid a future tax increase. The bill died by a narrow margin, but I remain hopeful the idea is still alive. I will continue to do all I can to push for conservative, intelligent use of every dollar we have.

In service to God and you,

John Mills, Representative, District 4, [email protected]