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2014 Legislative Accomplishments

March 19, 2014, 9:56 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

2014 Legislative Accomplishments

South Dakota lawmakers rejected an attempt to repeal the state's death penalty as well as a set of controversial laws that would have allowed business owners to refuse service to customers based on their sexual orientation.

But legislators aren't reflecting back on what was defeated during the 89th legislative session they are looking at what was accomplished.

School Funding

"I think it was the first time I believe the legislature and the governor's office recognized that there are problems with education, with the funding, and we had to step up there," Rep. Marc Feinstein (D) Sioux Falls said.

As the budget-writing committee closed out the 2014 session in the final few days lawmakers say they were able to pull off one of the major accomplishments of the session.

"I give kudos to our appropriators. They worked hard to find those dollars," Sen. Tim Rave (R) Baltic said.

Governor Dennis Daugaard proposed a three percent funding increase for South Dakota school districts, which is higher than the 1.6 percent they were slated to get under law.

Districts were ultimately asking for 3.8 percent but when the dust settled lawmakers were able to find an extra two million dollars for schools giving districts a total funding increase of about 3.3 percent next year.

"The obvious one I think is the extra $2.2 million. That went to teacher pay specifically. And even though we don't set teacher pay at the legislature I think that was really one of the big accomplishments," Rave said.

"I think it's more of a recognition that there is perhaps a crisis in the teacher shortage that's coming up and I think we do have to address it. And this is definitely a very positive step going forward to hopefully having some adequate funding in the future," Feinstein said.

Texting And Driving

Another major milestone this session was an issue that has struggled to get any traction in Pierre for the last several years.

"We finally got a texting ban in the state of South Dakota. As of July 1st it will be illegal to text while driving," Feinstein said.

Lawmakers also were able to come to an agreement in the final week of this year's session to pass a texting ban. It does not overwrite any local laws already passed in several cities, but what it does do is make texting while driving a secondary offense on every other road in the state.

"It affects anything else in the state. Interstates, highways, etcetera and then any municipality that doesn't currently have a texting ban so I think that was a good compromise," Rave said.

On July 1 anyone caught texting and driving in South Dakota will get a $100 fine.

Medicaid Expansion

One issue that didn't gain legislative approval, but is not going away anytime soon, is the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover patients who fall below the 138 percent level of poverty.

Rave and Republican leadership joined with Governor Daugaard to ask for a partial expansion for those under the 100 percent poverty level, but the federal government rejected the plan.

"Those folks below 100 percent are really left behind, so we really wanted to target those folks. They were really unwilling at this point to compromise on that. I'm hopeful discussions will continue over the summer and there might possibly be some opportunities to leverage there, we'll see where it goes," Rave said.

Democrats are also hopeful an agreement can be reached at some point.

"I think it eventually will happen and if the governor has to call a special session I think if he got to that point I think there would be some wide acceptance of that principle," Feinstein said.

As for the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers have nearly completed their work with more money for schools and a statewide ban on texting.

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