The South Dakota Legislature has discussed a wide range of issues already this session, ranging from the possibilities of outlawing synthetic marijuana to adopting a new look for a state flag. But both sides of the aisle agree the top issue, as usual, is education funding.
"The big issue, so far, is education. That seems to be one of the more lightning-rod topics. Everyone wants to do something. But nobody can agree on what we're going to do," Republican Senator Deb Peters of Hartford said.
"Schools are our best economic development. I think a growing number of legislators are realizing that's where the real issue is. We can argue about merit pay and bonuses and all this stuff, but if we don't fund the schools properly with their base funding, two things happen: education suffers, our kids suffer, economic development suffers with that and we shift the cost to property tax payers," Democratic Representative Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton said.
Time has already clicked away; the 2012 session is quickly approaching the midway point. That means the debate and discussion is picking up.
"The deadlines are already coming; we're halfway through. Bills have to be out of committees this week and then out of their house of origin. Before we know it, we'll be doing the budget and then it will be all done," Rep. Hunhoff said.
"Things are really starting to move as far as people are mad their bills have failed or people are realizing this bill is going to go somewhere if it passes out of one house or the other. So, we're seeing a little more energy in the lobbyists and more energy with people running around now realizing the bills that are out there," Sen. Peters said.
But before the session wraps up in March, lawmakers still have some big hurdles to clear. As usual, the last big step will be the budget. Republicans say they're ready for the challenge.
"We have lots of issues still to tackle as far as making sure government is still accountable, making sure we're accountable to the taxpayers and making sure we're funding efficient programs and effective programs, not just mediocre programs," Sen. Peters said.
But Democrats say the other party will rubber stamp what the governor has proposed, leaving them wishing for a more in-depth budget discussion.
"That's unfortunate. I think a little more give and take, a little slower process, a little messier process, would actually be better government," Rep. Hunhoff said.
And that's what lawmakers have to hammer out over the next month.