Every legislative session is distinct and guided by differing interests, influences and leadership. This year is no different. Governor Kristi Noem took office at the start of the 94th legislative session. Moreover, after the November election, the legislature had newly-elected leadership along with a change of composition of each chamber. The House is comprised of 45 re-elected legislators, three former legislators who returned and 22 new House members. The Senate is comprised of 27 re-elected legislators with three cross-overs, one former legislator who returned and four new Senate members, which includes an appointee.
...work to ensure there is meaningful public input prior to enacting laws that govern our state...
This year there were a total of 577 bills and resolutions – a number that is fairly typical for a given session. However, this session did have a record number of vehicle bills. Vehicle bills, also known as placeholder bills, are basically a title with no language in the body of the bill to help the reader understand what law is being proposed or amended. An example from this session is HB 1083, "an act to revise certain programs to support education in South Dakota." The body of the bill simply repeats the same language as the title.
Vehicle bills, such as HB 1083, can move through one house and crossover to the other house with no language to help the public know what the legislature is doing. This can be confusing for seasoned lobbyists and disheartening to the public. In the rarest of past examples, a vehicle bill was passed by both houses and the actual language of the bill was added in a conference committee, without public input. At best, a vehicle bill can allow more time to define difficult issues; at worst, it obscures the public's ability to understand and reduces or nearly eliminates their input.
The number of vehicle bills introduced this year – an astonishing 46 bills – was roughly four times the historical average. What is even more surprising is the legislative branch seemed to be moving in the opposite direction of our new governor, who communicated her desire for government to become more transparent in her State of the State Address. Although the legislature showed some willingness to increase the transparency of vehicle bills, it is the Chamber's hope that they will seek to be more transparent in future legislative sessions and work with South Dakotans and the governor to ensure there is meaningful public input prior to enacting laws that govern our state.
Here are some highlights of this session. Later this month the Chamber will publish our Legislative Annual Report, which serves as a comprehensive document for our advocacy efforts.
EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
South Dakota is one of six states that only offers driver's license exams in English. According to the legislative research brief, all but one of the states that borders ours offer driver's license exams in languages other than English. The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce led a large coalition in support of a bill to authorize Spanish to be used in the process of issuing non-commercial driver licenses and permits. This bill would have helped South Dakota's largest immigrant population to become more mobile, therefore improving their ability to participate in the workforce. The bill provided legal immigrants the option to study and take the driver's examination in Spanish. SB 117 gave the Department of Public Safety ample time to get an official translation and would have cost an estimate of $15,500. However, the Department of Public Safety opposed the bill. This bill passed Senate but died in House State Affairs. Half of the votes cast against the bill came from the Sioux Falls area.
The Chamber supported a bill which would have established an Early Learning Advisory Council as part of the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act. The 12-person council, appointed by the governor, would have studied where preschool gaps exist in the state and allow South Dakota to begin receiving some federal funds for preschool programs, to the tune of $20,000. South Dakota is one of only seven states that did not apply for a portion of the $100 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for early childhood development. South Dakota is one of only four state governments that doesn't fund preschool and one of two states that doesn't have an Early Learning Advisory Council, a prerequisite for further federal grants. Over half of the votes against the bill came from the Sioux Falls area.
A bill to expand the Opportunity Scholarship program to home school students easily passed this year. The bill allows home school students with a composite score of a least a 24 on the ACT or a comparable score on the SAT to be eligible for a South Dakota opportunity scholarship. The Chamber supported this bill.
Who says east river and west river can't work together? The Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce began working with the Rapid City Chamber last September during our Washington D.C. Fly-In on a draft of what became HB 1111. The east/west South Dakota delegation met with the Secretary of the Airforce at the Pentagon with the bill draft. This bill provides for professional or occupational temporary licensure in South Dakota for active military spouses who have an active license in good standing in another state. Ultimately, the military spouse will no longer have barriers to enter our workforce more quickly. This bill is key for Ellsworth Airforce Base as they are finalists to be selected to be the training facility B21s. It is certain that Ellsworth will get to fly B21s. Being selected as the training facility could bring as much as one billion dollars in new development for the base and the Rapid City community. This bill passed both houses with overwhelming support.
PROPERTY AND EMPLOYER RIGHTS
Each session legislation is introduced that put business and property owners at odds with gun advocates. The Chamber supports the rights of gun ownership and the traditions of hunting and outdoor life, which is so prominent in South Dakota. However, we have also maintained that property and business owners have the right to restrict gun possession on their property if they so choose. The Chamber took positions on two of the twelve gun bills which were in opposition to the rights of property and business owners to restrict gun possession on their property. Both bills were defeated.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIVITY
The Chamber recognizes the growing diversity of our state's population and we embrace the opportunities that this diversity provides for a culturally and talent-rich community. We work with residents, partner organizations, community and state agencies and elected officials to develop efforts to engage and include all individuals in our state who seek to work side-by-side with us to grow our economy. There were two bills the Chamber opposed because of the discriminatory nature of the bills and their negative economic impact from national media attention. Moreover, negative impacts would affect our visitor industry efforts, sporting events, entertainment/concerts and workforce and business recruitment. Both bills were defeated.
The final piece of business for the legislature was to pass a state budget. They completed this task at approximately 3 a.m. on March 13, after remaining in session in order to conclude business ahead of an impending storm. Our 2019 Legislative Annual Report will have more details of the final budget, a complete report of our advocacy efforts and the legislative scorecard. In conclusion, our advocacy efforts are guided by our members through the leadership of the Issues Management Council, the Legislative Issues Council and the Board of Directors. We thank them for their valued involvement!