The March 31 adjournment of the state Legislature signals the end to a successful legislative session. It was a busy session and I’d like to highlight some of the work that was done.
We agreed to a budget that increases state funding to K-12 schools by 3.3 percent, increases rates for Medicaid providers by 3 percent and allocates extra funds for providers who rely heavily on Medicaid.
The budget freezes tuition at the state universities for resident on-campus students, and addresses the need for primary care providers by expanding the Medical School. The budget also includes significant increases for the state’s technical institutes.
We also continued our commitment to the state’s outdoor heritage in the budget. The Legislature allocated more funds to continue our successful fight against the Mountain Pine Beetle in the Black Hills, and authorized improvements at the new Good Earth State Park in eastern South Dakota.
I appreciated the Legislature’s support for a package of insurance consumer protection bills. These four bills give the Division of Insurance more authority to protect consumers against unfair claims, allow the Division to impose fines on companies who violate those standards and give the public more information about ongoing investigations.
The Legislature passed two more laws that increase public access. One bill guarantees public access to police logs. That idea had been proposed last year by the Open Government Taskforce and was passed this year. Another bill requires the South Dakota High School Activities Association, which acts on behalf of public schools to organize extra-curricular events, to follow the same openness laws that schools must follow.
I also appreciated legislative support for a bill that modernizes the technology available to the deaf and hard-of-hearing through the telecommunications services fund. This bill doesn’t cost the state any more money, but it allows the deaf to use more modern and affordable devices, such as iPads rather than outdated communications equipment.
Businesses in South Dakota will benefit from a cut in unemployment contributions. The unemployment insurance trust fund is reaching its target balance, and that means a savings to business owners of $11 million next year.
South Dakota will also join many other states in banning texting while driving. Just as our seat belt law reminds us all to act responsibly, this new law will remind drivers to keep their attention on the road, and not on their smartphone.
Finally, we continued our commitment to maintaining a strong financial foundation for our state. We allocated more funds to maintenance and repair, so that state facilities remain in good condition. We fully funded the cement plant retirement fund, so that the employees of the formerly state owned plant are secure in their state pensions. We reduced our state debt by 20 percent as we repaid millions of dollars of bonds on state buildings. This also allowed us to spend more ongoing dollars on education. And we paid cash, rather than borrowing, for the state’s share of the new Veterans Home in Hot Springs.
When we look at the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., we see a legislative body that is bogged down in partisanship and grandstanding. South Dakotans can be proud that our state Legislature has not fallen into that trap.
Our state legislators are not career politicians. They take time away from their jobs and families to come to Pierre for nine weeks in the winter. While they are here, they work hard and they do their best for their constituents and for our state. When their work is complete, they return to their communities and live among the people they serve. If you see one of your legislators in the coming days, take a moment to say “thank you” for the work they do. They’ve done a good job.
Dennis Daugaard is currently the governor of South Dakota. His office can be reached at 605-773-3212