District 28 Legislative Report

Betty Olson COLUMN BOXThe 2016 legislative session is finished, hallelujah! Except for Veto Day on March 29th, the legislative session is over and I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see Pierre in my rear view mirror as I drove home Friday afternoon.

This last session has been the most frustrating of the ten years I’ve served in the legislature, although the big government members of both parties are certainly pleased.

SB 131, one of the worst of the governor’s education bills, passed out of the Senate on Wednesday 25 to 10 vote. I was one of the votes against it. SB 131 establishes a target teacher salary and a target teacher ratio, revises education funding, creates a School Finance Accountability Board, and provides for school district reporting and penalties. This was the Gov. Daugaard’s bill he created with the help of the “Blue Ribbon Task Force” that had only members he appointed.

SB 131 was amended on the House floor three times before the House passed it on Monday. The sum total of those three amendments was a decrease of $5.6 million to schools experiencing declining enrollments. Now, it is clear. SB 131 is the blueprint to forced consolidation. It will not allow many schools access to the resources they need to compete for a limited pool of available teachers.

This bill, more than any other creates winners and losers. It sweeps local “other funds” that were outside the formula, brings them into the formula and redistributes them across the state. It is very much weighted to the advantage of the larger schools. In the aggregate, it robs from the small, rural districts and gives to the large, urban districts. Teachers in the small, rural districts will be paid at the ratio set by this bill instead of by the number of teachers actually employed in that district.

Rural schools will lose money because they have more teachers than the state ratio, but large schools will get paid for phantom teachers. Get this – the 1,486 teachers in Sioux Falls will receive extra money for 71 additional teachers that don’t exist. Aberdeen will get paid for 26 non-existent teachers, Brandon Valley gets paid for 35 teachers they don’t have, and Pierre and Huron will each receive money for 21 more teachers than they actually employ. Meanwhile, teachers in small school districts will only receive money for the ratio of teachers set by the state, not for the actual number employed. The Senate tried to send SB 131 to conference committee to attempt to make it better, but we fell just short (16-19).

The legislature also passed HB 1044 revising the state aid to the general education formula. HB 1182 increases the state sales tax, the state use tax, the excise tax on farm machinery, and the amusement device tax for the purpose of increasing education funding and reducing property taxes, provides for school district reporting and penalties, and declares an emergency so the public can’t put it on the ballot this fall. One of the carrots in the bill to get more votes was $40 million of the half cent sales tax increase was to go to property tax relief. HB 1044 was passed on Thursday and the property tax relief for agriculture didn’t fare so well, even though that was what helped pass HB 1182. The levy on Owner Occupied property was lowered by 10%, the levy for Commercial property was decreased by 15%, and – I know this will surprise you – the levy for Agriculture property wasn’t lowered at all. Gov. Daugaard signed all of his education funding bills on Friday, so they are now law.

This week the governor also signed into law two bills that I was the prime sponsor on:

• SB 66 permits the issuance of handicapped license plates to parents or guardians of handicapped dependents.

• HB 1065 designates the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum of South Dakota in Hill City as the official Civilian Conservation Corps Museum of South Dakota.

Daylight savings time is here again. Did you remember to set your clocks ahead one hour Saturday night? Both of my bills to keep South Dakota on either daylight savings time or standard time year around were killed in the legislature this year, so we still have to change our clocks in the spring and again in the fall.

A medical alert came out this week letting people know that the time change is bad for your health. Setting your clocks ahead by an hour in the spring and back an hour in the fall creates an increased risk of strokes and car crashes. Adults over 60 and cancer patients are more susceptible to strokes when the time changes, so doctors suggest you adjust your sleep schedule by 15 minutes every day to avoid health problems. They didn’t give any advice on how to avoid car crashes, but wrecks must have something to do with sleep deprivation. I sure wish this study would have come out before my bills were voted on! Several other states are attempting to do away with the time change. I wish them luck.

Tea Layna Hill from Belle Fourche was my page the fifth term and we both wished she could have been there for more than just one week. I have had some terrific pages this year and I definitely recommend the page program to every senior in high school. I’ll let you know what happens on Veto Day in a couple weeks and I’ll also notify you if the governor decides to call a special session to expand Medicaid.

You can check how your legislators voted at this link: legis.sd.gov/ Use the link to read the bills and listen to the committee hearings.