The whirlwind of session has begun. Last Monday I drove to Pierre, unpacked my car and got ready to begin. On Tuesday, the Governor outlined his top priorities, including a proposed half-cent sales tax increase to generate over $107 million in annual revenue to increase teacher pay and reduce property taxes. Of the $107 million, about $40 million would be used for property tax relief, and the balance used to increase teacher salaries to an average of $48,500.
The Governor also advocated for expansion of Medicaid. Medicaid currently covers 118,000 South Dakotans, or about 14% of the population. The expansion would add 55,000 more people. The Governor said he will only expand Medicaid if the legislature supports it and so long as it does not require use of state funds. On average, the cost to insure each Medicaid recipient in South Dakota is $7,000 per year. Do the math: 55,000 people x $7,000 = lots of money. We’ll see what happens with this, but my gut is there isn’t much support.
On Wednesday, all the House and Senate members again gathered on the House floor to hear Chief Justice Gilbertson’s State of the Judiciary message. He spoke about the success of our state’s alternative sentencing programs like our network of drug and alcohol courts, the development of rural programs to battle drug and alcohol addictions, the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program that encourages attorneys to locate in rural counties with populations of under 10,000 people, and the ongoing work of the Elder Abuse Task Force to protect our vulnerable older seniors.
Thursday was both fascinating and historic with the first-ever State of the Indian Nation address. With Native American lining the gallery, and amidst Indian chants and drum beats, we heard the plight of the Native American Indian: crumbling infrastructure, high drug abuse, poverty, and suicide.
On Friday I had my first committee meeting. I continue to serve on House Education Committee, but this year I was asked if I would consider switching from Commerce Committee to Health Committee. The appointment of a few new legislators resulted in some committee shuffling. I agreed to the change. I’ve worked my whole life as a chiropractor so it’s a good fit.
We’re also starting to see some early bills come in this week
A bill that should prove controversial alters a 2014 Initiated Measure that passed with 62% of South Dakota voters. The bill would essentially void the will of the voters that health insurance plans to be open to all providers who are willing to accept an insurance network’s terms and conditions. The bill is being brought forward by Sandford who wants to create “narrow networks”. In my mind, regardless of the bill, the legislature should always have compelling reasons to ever consider over-riding the will of the people.
Each of the bills I am sponsoring is moving along. My veteran’s preference bill clarifies that when a veteran applies for a job offered by a tax-supported entity like a city or county, if the veteran has at least the minimal qualifications for the job he or she must be interviewed. The statute has been on the books for decades but the language hasn’t been clear, and some veterans haven’t been offered the preference. My bill should clean that up. I spoke one-on-one to every legislator about the bill. Of the 105 total legislators, 101 are co-sponsoring.
My student physical privacy act may be heard in committee as early as Friday. It will likely be another controversial bill – though it seems very common sense to me. I wrote the bill in response to the federal government’s new interpretation of Title IX. Though the interpretation is merely an opinion and not federal law, the administration is threatening to with-hold federal funds from any school that does not allow transgender students to change clothes, shower or use the restrooms of the opposite biologic sex. I’ll keep you updated. This week I learned the ACLU hired more staff to fight this bill and other pro-life bills I am supporting.
Thank you again for the opportunity to represent you. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also try to call me on my cell at (605) 868-9010, but since we’re supposed to keep it turned off during meetings, email will get to me quicker.