Posted on Tuesday, January 03, 2017Blog written by Rob Swenson
The 2017 session of the South Dakota Legislature begins January 10 with lawmakers’ attention focused largely on state government’s usual, annual priority: deciding how to divvy up tax revenue.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard recently described fiscal 2017, which began last July, as financially lean. Revenue for the first several months of the budget year has fallen short of projections, he says. Even so, the governor expects legislators will be able to “slightly increase” state spending on education and Medicaid.
Judging from the sidelines, there probably also will be a heavy dose of political intrigue during the 2017 Legislature. Multiple factors are at play, stirring the political mix:
- Legislators and the governor may try to roll back some provisions of ballot proposals that South Dakota voters approved in November. Initiated Measure 22 appears to be the most likely target for an overhaul. It imposes a high standard of accountability – perhaps too high for practicality - on lawmakers and lobbyists.
- Potential candidates for governor, U.S. House and other statewide positions in 2018 might jockey for public favor during the session.
- A new president, Donald Trump, officially takes office Jan. 20. He will bring with him sweeping changes in the leadership of federal departments that are important to the well-being of South Dakota, such as the Department of Agriculture.
Some issues affecting telecommunications might surface, but nothing sweeping is currently expected.
The governor begins the 2017 session with his State of the State address at noon in the Capital. The session is scheduled to last 38 working days, with March 27 as the final day.
Republicans will be in firm control of legislative proceedings. The GOP holds a 60-10 membership advantage over Democrats in the House, and a 29-6 advantage in the House. Daugaard, Lt. Gov. Matt Michels and all other current, elected, statewide officeholders in South Dakota also are Republicans.
Republican dominance in the makeup of the Legislature and government leadership could make for some interesting clashes between the conservative and moderate wings of the party. Experienced observers of the process say there are quite a few unknowns about the session.
“It will be very dynamic, I think. You’ve got a number of new legislators,” says Greg Dean, director of industry relations for the South Dakota Telecommunications Association. “There‘s new leadership in the majority party on both the House and Senate side. That will have an influence on legislation that’s introduced.”
Dean and Darla Pollman Rogers, a lawyer in Pierre, serve as lobbyists for the telecommunications industry, including SDN Communications and its member companies across South Dakota. During a recent industry forum in Sioux Falls, Dean and Rogers discussed some telecom issues that might arise during the session.
Proposed changes in business-related taxes on broadband construction is a possible, secondary issue. Also, the state might amend rules relating to the construction of wireless infrastructure, such as towers, in interstate rights of way.
In terms of emotional issues, Initiated Measure 22, or IM 22, seems to be generating the most legislative consternation. The law change approved by voters establishes an ethics commission and significantly revamps campaign finance laws. Lawmakers and other organizations are concerned by the potentially far-reaching ramifications of a provisions that limit contributions to legislators.
IM 22 currently is the target of a legal challenge.
Voter approval of Amendment S, better known as Marsy’s Law, has generated cost-related complaints, mostly at local levels of government. The law expands victims’ rights to be notified about changes in the status of their cases.
What kind of impact, if any, those and other voter decisions have on legislative action will be interesting to follow.
Of course, surprise issues that capture public attention nearly always pop up during annual sessions. If that doesn’t happen in 2017, it might be the biggest surprise of all.
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