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2010 Legislative Session Roundup: South Dakota

Much of the attention on the 2010 legislative session focused on closing a $43 million gap in the state’s $1.2 billion budget.  The session was more combative than usual between the Legislature and the Governor with more vetoes (8) and more overrides (3) than in any of Governor Rounds’ eight previous years in office.  Two of the vetoes the legislature overrode were on a bill creating tax incentives for wind energy projects and a bill that will soften the blow of public college tuition hikes by creating a need-based grant for students.

Budget:  The legislature approved a balanced budget that avoided the most severe spending cuts but was still criticized for placing the greatest burden on students, public employees, and people with disabilities.  Notably, the final budget adopted proposals initially advanced by Governor Rounds to eliminate planned raises for state employees and cap public education spending at 2009 levels.  Progressive lawmakers argued that cuts to higher education funding will force tuition hikes or other service cuts for state universities.  Legislators avoided proposing any cuts to Medicaid, and the state approved a law (SB69) allowing for the construction of a much-needed nursing home facility in the under-served eastern part of the state.

Education:  The state enacted H1240 to create a need-based grant program of a $1000 per year for college students meeting South Dakota residency requirements.  A second bill vetoed by the Governor, S121, would have guaranteed expanded education services for public school students who are deaf or hard of hearing.  The Senate voted strongly to override (30-4), but proponents in the House were unable to muster the votes.

In closely divided votes in both chambers, the legislature approved HCR1009, calling for a “balanced” curriculum on climate change issues, part of a trend among a number of states taking up education measures denying climate change akin to those on “intelligent design” and opposing evolution.  Among other unbalanced findings listed in the resolution, it characterizes carbon dioxide as “the gas of life.”

Green Energy:  Despite passage of the climate change denial education resolution, legislators took a significant step to advance renewable energy development by overriding the governor’s veto of a bill granting tax incentives to wind projects (HB1060).  For projects with a cost of more than $10 million, the law grants a 45% tax refund; projects costing more than $40 million qualify for a 55% refund.  The special tax treatment also applies to related infrastructure for wind farms, such as transmission lines and substations, and industrial facilities that manufacture, assemble, or distribute wind generator or transmission components.

Elder Care and Age Discrimination:  Another law passed this year, SB168, which triples the limit on long term insurance policies from $100,000 to $300,000.  However, South Dakota remains one of only two states that does not protect its residents from age discrimination.  The Health and Human Services Committee of the House voted down HB 1144, which would have added age to the protected status categories of South Dakota’s anti-discrimination law.

Guns and States Rights:  The legislature passed an anti-gun control measure (SB 89) which claims to exempt firearms and ammunition manufactured and owned within South Dakota from federal regulations.  The law asserts that the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution does not apply to such firearms, and that federal regulations thereby do not apply.  The bill includes a carve-out for semi-automatic weapons, large guns, and certain other weapons.

Resources:
Rapid City Journal - South Dakota Legislature news
Yankton Press & Dakotan - Lawmakers Pass Balanced Budget
ABC-KOTA News - South Dakota's 2010 Legislative Session, the final days
AARP South Dakota - 2010 Legislative Wrap-Up