Smith wants ‘wildlife-habitat stamp’

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of four reports with area state legislators: Sen. V.J. Smith (R-7); Rep. Tim Reed (R-7), Rep. Doug Post (R-7) and Rep. John Mills (R-4). District 7 encompasses the city of Brookings and a portion of the county surrounding the city; District 4 encompasses parts of Brookings and Codington and all of Deuel and Grant counties. The 2020 legislative session starts at noon Tuesday, Jan. 14, in Pierre.

BROOKINGS – “It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” said V.J. Smith – Brookings resident, author, speaker and Republican – as he looks forward to his second year of service as state senator for District 7.

“The volume and variety of the issues is at times staggering. Things that you really didn’t give much thought to in your life, then they’re issues that you’re trying to make decisions on.”

Smith has four committee assignments: he’s vice chair of Senate Taxation; and he sits on Education, Military and Veterans Affairs, and Retirement Laws.

With a year’s learning curve behind him, he feels “far more comfortable going into this year’s session than (he) did last year.” 

The state Senate is his first elective office, and he came to Pierre last year with a bit of trepidation. He sees this year’s session being different than last year’s.

“There were not a lot of arguments,” Smith said, looking back to the end of his first session. “And the reason why: Revenues were up; expenses were down. You had this money that you could work with. Well, we’re not facing that this year; it’s a whole different animal.”

That whole-different-animal is Gov. Kristi Noem’s proposed budget with a calculated $20 million loss in revenue brought about by the state’s loss of sales tax on internet service. That could translate to no increases for state employee salaries, teachers’ pay and Medicaid providers. But it’s not a done deal yet.    

“The Legislature is the one that decides where the money goes, ultimately,” the senator said, weighing in on the governor’s proposed budget. “And you’re going to hear it, if you haven’t heard it already: Legislators like to say it’s a plan that she’s offering; but it’s not the plan.

The plan will be formalized the end March when we vote on the budget for the (fiscal) year. There’s a lot of conversation that’s going to happen between now and then.”

Smith said his constituents “understand that there’s a scarcity of resources and they can accept no pay increase – grudgingly – as long as everybody’s being treated the same way. And they’re pretty respectful of all of that.”

Wildlife-habitat stamp

The senator does plan to introduce and champion a bill of his own, driven by his being “a pheasant hunter every year for the past 50 years.” 

By way of background, Smith explained that precision agriculture practiced by a smarter generation of ranchers and farmers has meant there “are not many inches of ground that do not go unused out there. And with the extensive use of chemicals killing weeds and this and that, we’re losing ground in habitat.”

He noted that South Dakota is the only state of those it borders that “does not charge a wildlife-habitat stamp. I’m introducing legislation that does charge residents $10 a year and non-residents $25 a year for both hunting and fishing. (It would) raise $6 million.” 

Smith explained that in the state’s 700-plus game production areas, “we would start putting in food plots and pollinator plants, all those things that grow pheasants, where ducks can lay eggs and where deer can lie down.”

“We need to do something,” he added. “This is the fewest number of hunting licenses since 1938. I’ve been working on this since April.” 

(A Game, Fish and Parks official put last season’s decrease in numbers at 26,000, noting that it resulted in lost revenue of $1.15 million.) 

“It’s alarming,” Smith said. Noting the dollar decreases in smaller communities, he added, “They’re hurting, not simply because of the farm economy but because – it goes back to tourism.”

Finally, looking close to home, he said, “There are people in Brookings who are going over to western Minnesota to hunt pheasants, because they have more pheasants than we do. That’s an abomination.”

Contact John Kubal at [email protected]