Different legislators should have been chosen, lobbyists tell South Dakota lawmakers

Capitol News Bureau
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OACOMA, S.D. (KELO) — Two lobbyists for municipal electricity suppliers did something rare Tuesday. They publicly asked the Legislature’s Executive Board to change some of the lawmakers the board recently named to an interim study.

But the board’s leaders decided to keep intact their original choices of nine senators and representatives, who will look at issues regarding municipal electric utilities moving into territory traditionally served by rural electric co-ops.

35 of South Dakota municipalities provide electricity. Watertown is the largest.

Rural cooperatives meanwhile have provided electricity for decades to areas that originally didn’t have service.

The sides come into conflict at times when a city is asked or wants to serve a customer in a co-op’s territory.

Senator Brock Greenfield, a Clark Republican, this year brought SB 66 that would have provided more protection to rural cooperatives. Lawmakers changed it into a study and said the Executive Board should appoint the members.

Greenfield is Vice Chairman for the Executive Board. The current chairman is House Speaker Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican.

The complaint Tuesday came from Drew Duncan of Sioux Falls, who represents Heartland Consumers Power District based in Madison, and Larry Nelson of Canton, who lobbies for South Dakota Municipal Electric Association and Missouri River Energy Services.

Duncan said the original agreement reached at a private meeting in Greenfield’s office called for three legislators from a list provided by the municipal interests, three legislators off a list from the cooperatives and three legislators who hadn’t aligned with either side.

Duncan said Senator Lee Schoenbeck, a Republican from Watertown, and a lobbyist for the cooperatives took part in the meeting too.

Nelson, a Democratic former legislator, said he was sitting outside Greenfield’s office during the meeting. 

Duncan said he was surprised when the Executive Board appointed five of the bill’s co-sponsors to the study panel. They are Senator Susan Wismer, D-Britton, and House members Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland; Kirk Chaffee, R-Whitewood; Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham; and Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission.

““I can tell you the perception will be the committee was set up unfairly,” Duncan told board members. He said the way the selection process worked out “was fundamentally unfair.”

The four others on the study panel are Representative Tim Reed, R-Brookings, and senators Alan Solano, R-Rapid City; Jordan Youngberg, R-Madison; and Schoenbeck.

Greenfield said he didn’t check the co-sponsors list and said Solano was selected to chair the committee as a neutral lawmaker looking for a solution.

As for Bordeaux, who wasn’t on the co-ops’ list, Greenfield said no one mentioned during the appointment process that Bordeaux was president of the Cherry-Todd cooperative.

Haugaard defended the process.

“I don’t think we saw it as trying to pack the committee in a certain direction. I certainly didn’t see it that way,” Haugaard said.

Rep. Randy Gross, R-Elkton, said he expects the panel members will look at the issues with open minds.  “I think we’ve got nine very capable people assigned to this committee.” 

House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte said any legislation that comes from the study needs to be acceptable to a majority of all lawmakers.

“So it has to be middle of the road and everybody knows that,” Qualm said. He added, “I’m not in favor of making any changes.”

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