Governor’s office is rewriting legislators’ bill that would legalize industrial hemp in South Dakota

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Several state lawmakers working to legalize industrial hemp in South Dakota said Thursday that Governor Kristi Noem and her staff have rewritten their original legislation.

House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte and Representative Oren Lesmeister, a Parade Democrat, explained the situation at a hearing the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee had already scheduled for HB 1008.

Noem vetoed Lesmeister’s bill last year, saying it would open the door to legalizing marijuana. The Legislature then assigned an interim committee to press ahead on a new version of the industrial hemp bill. After the panel delivered its proposal, the governor early this month said she was willing to accept industrial hemp if her conditions were met.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture meanwhile continued to revise proposed rules. Qualm said Thursday that’s one of the reasons the compromise version of the South Dakota bill hasn’t yet received a public hearing. Thursday was the twelfth working day of the 37-day session.

“We have had some extensive conversations with second floor (the governor’s office) to get this thing worked out, so that it works the way everybody wants this hemp bill to work. And with the rules that have come down from USDA, we’ve had to do some more extensive things than we thought we had,” Qualm told the House panel. He added, “And so that’s why at this point we do not have the amendment completely done.”

The governor’s office has drawn a 14-page rewrite of the legislative committee’s original bill. It’s strictly paper at this point. The Legislative Research Council website that serves as the official record of the Legislature’s proceedings didn’t display the amendment for the hearing Thursday.

“It’s not on the internet. We didn’t get — we didn’t put it out there,” Qualm said. Paper copies had been put on committee members’ desks in the House floor Wednesday.

The committee’s chairman is Representative Thomas Brunner, a Nisland Republican. He told the committee the bill would be held until the panel’s meeting Tuesday. “Hopefully the amendment will be in its final form or close to it,” Brunner said.

Qualm and Lesmeister took turns explaining section by section the rewrite from the governor’s office.

“I’m not going to speak for the governor or her office. I don’t know what it will take to get her to sign it. I know she’s put out her ‘Four Guardrails‘ and stuff,” Lesmeister said.

One of the guardrails was the program support itself, including all the regulatory and law enforcement costs. Her budget office issued its estimates of the start-up and ongoing costs.

“We have a little difference in the money structure,” Lesmeister said. He outlined what Noem/s proposal would require. “We’re looking at hiring more officers. We’re looking at more drug dogs. We’re looking at more people at the port of entries. We’re looking at expanding our drug locker. We’re looking at adding another testing machine (and) FTEs for the Department of Ag, Department of DPS (Public Safety), and in the laboratory. Everyone of them needs to be done anyway.”

He continued, “The ongoing expenditures is where we have some issues, I guess, or concerns, or we don’t quite crunch the numbers the same way. Heck, we may even come forward with just an appropriation bill possibly that just funds hemp, period, and not anything else.”

Representative Kent Peterson, a Salem Republican, asked Lesmeister whether the two sides could reach common financial ground.

“At this time we have a difference in numbers. I guess I’ll just leave it there. We don’t have any specific numbers, especially with some changes that are coming in this bill, or in this amendment possibly. So at this time we don’t have any hard numbers just to put on the table and give you,” Lesmeister replied.

Peterson said he agreed because there are two separate issues of transportation of industrial hemp through South Dakota, which is now allowed nationwide under federal law, and legalization at the state level.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in eastern South Dakota has received USDA clearance to grow industrial hemp and several other tribes have applied or are discussing it.

“I think there’s an enforcement issue that has to be looked at regardless of what we do here in South Dakota for the growing side of things, because we can’t stop our interstate commerce from flowing through,” Peterson said.

“But then the one where the devil is in the details is the growing and manufacturing of it, and the fee structure that goes with that. And I think that’s where the fight will be, as you probably are aware,” Peterson continued.

Lesmeister agreed. “Part of it is the changes we just got handed in the amendment. We had some numbers pretty close, we thought, and some things changed. So until we have them, I hate to start spitting numbers out there that are not going to be the same next week,” he said.

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