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A Pierre Preview

January 9, 2014, 9:56 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

A Pierre Preview

A new year brings a new legislative session in South Dakota.

Education Funding

Lawmakers will begin the 38-day session next week and South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard will set the tone with his State of the State address Tuesday. But his budget proposal delivered last month, specifically his school funding plan, will likely be a top issue discussed this year.

"I think adding to 3.8 percent is a step in the right direction in saying, 'Hey, restore your faith in us schools. Schools you can believe in us in a state now we'll go forward," Representative Marc Feinstein (D) Sioux Falls said.

Daugaard proposed a three-percent increase for school districts, which is nearly twice as much as the 1.6 percent increase that was expected.

Still, there will likely be a push to get schools to a 3.8 percent funding increase which gets districts to the funding levels they were at before Daugaard made cuts to the budget in 2011.

"For the last several years, I've actually made broad amendments on the floor in the budget debate to restore levels to what it should be, to what the pre-cut funding should be. So, I'm on record supporting that all along," Feinstein said.

"Three-point-eight will come up. Three-point-eight might be a stretch," Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave (R) Baltic said.

Rave is not as hopeful that schools will get the extra money. He says the governor's budget address didn't include the revenue from the last few months of the year and he's not optimistic about the numbers.

"I personally am a little bit hesitant on thinking they're going to be up a lot. The numbers we had from before were from before the blizzard out West, so I'm a little bit concerned that's going to have some impact on fourth quarter revenues," Rave said.

Medicaid Expansion

There will also be a push to expand Medicaid to 48,000 South Dakotans who don't get subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, but who don't make enough money to afford health insurance.

Daugaard has declined to expand coverage because of the shaky roll out of the health care law. Rave says there may be a proposal to cover some uninsured South Dakotans.

"I think there's more of an opportunity for some targeted Medicaid expansion versus an overall Medicaid expansion as proposed by the federal government," Rave said.

However, Democrats want a full expansion to cover all those who fall in the gap.

"It's that people in the gap, in the middle, they're the working poor and to expand Medicaid is to get rid of the political blinders, the partisan blinders, look at it from the real standpoint of what it does," Feinstein said.

Death Penalty

There will also be a discussion about repealing the death penalty in South Dakota.

"That might have some traction. I mean definitely it's going to be proposed and the thing is we'll see where it goes from there," Feinstein said.

But after South Dakota just executed an inmate for murdering a correctional officer and another for kidnapping, raping and murdering a young girl, Rave doesn't know how far the debate will go.

"My gut would tell me there's not a lot of support for repealing the death penalty because of the very cases that you're talking about. Some that happened very recently are still pretty fresh in our memories," Rave said.

EB-5 and Economic Development Investigation

One issue that may not get much discussion, however, is the investigation surrounding the state economic development office and the investment for citizenship program called EB-5. Rave says he's waiting on the federal investigation to finish before lawmakers would take any action.

"I really don't see us doing much with EB-5 issues until that report comes out so we actually know what we're talking about and if it needs to be, or if anything needs to be, fixed," Rave said.

However, Democrats have asked for an independent forensic audit in the last month so it may become a point of discussion in the halls of the Capitol during the upcoming session.


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