PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s 105 lawmakers probably won’t be returning to the state Capitol building any time soon, despite what the governor indicated a few weeks ago on the final day of the 2021 regular session.
“It seems likely we will not have a special session in June,” House Speaker Spencer Gosch said Thursday afternoon, as the Legislature’s Executive Board wrapped up its meeting.
The Glenham Republican’s announcement came minutes after most of the board’s 15 members endorsed creating a special committee to advise Governor Kristi Noem on how the latest round of federal coronavirus aid should be spent.
Senate President Pro Tem Lee Schoenbeck suggested the committee, which will have 10 members. The Watertown Republican said it would help the Legislature avoid having to repeatedly return every time the federal government issued more guidance on using the funding.
“To give the administration guidance, so that we don’t have a special session, and that’s exactly where it came from in the discussion, and I would tell you the governor was part of the discussion,” Schoenbeck said.
The governor, a Republican, had issued a March 29 statement to lawmakers that she intended to call them back for a special session in the second half of May or June.
She wanted the special session to deal with fairness in girls and women’s sports, medical marijuana and adjusting the state budget to accommodate the additional federal aid.
Legislative leaders made clear in phone calls with the governor since then that there wasn’t sufficient consensus on marijuana or the sports issue for anything to pass.
The Executive Board voted 13-2 Thursday for Schoenbeck’s proposal. Voting no were Speaker Gosch and Representative Ernie Otten, a Tea Republican.
Gosch said the Executive Board could have accomplished the same thing as what Schoenbeck wants and wouldn’t have required a new committee.
“I’m not supportive of the motion but I understand where it’s coming from,” Gosch said.
But Senate Republican leader Gary Cammack of Union Center said the advisory panel could focus on the federal aid without the many other administrative matters the Executive Board handles.
The Legislature met in a special session October 5 to give direction to the governor on spending the first round of federal coronavirus aid. Lawmakers dealt with the second round during the 2021 regular session.
“We acted, and then we didn’t really have any involvement after that,” Schoenbeck said. “We didn’t really get to see what the administration did, and this way, at every step of the way, we’re involved.”
He added there are potentially what he called “COVID flips” such as federal funding that can replace current state funding for broadband expansion and the healthcare and law enforcement fields.
“If we’re at the table, on a very regular basis, I think it creates an opportunity for the (Legislature’s) leadership and Appropriations Committee to be involved in where those dollars go. Those are going to be new state dollars for the next session,” Schoenbeck said.
The panel would have Gosch and Schoenbeck; Senate Republican leader Gary Cammack of Union Center, Senate Democrat leader Troy Heinert of Mission, House Republican leader Kent Peterson of Salem and House Democrat leader Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls; appropriations co-chairs Senator Jean Hunhoff of Yankton and Representative Chris Karr of Sioux Falls, who are Republicans; and two appropriators who are on the Executive Board, Senator Ryan Maher of Isabel and Representative Hugh Bartels of Watertown, who are Republicans.
Legislative Research Council fiscal analyst Jeff Mehlhaff said Thursday that state officials in South Dakota and across the nation are now waiting again for guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department on how the American Rescue Plan Act money can be spent.
South Dakota will receive a total of about $3.4 billion, according to Mehlhaff. He said some will come directly from the federal government to businesses, some will be for state government’s use and some will pass through state government to local governments and schools.
A $1.25 billion chunk will come through state government, with the state allowed to use $977.8 million and distributed $272.2 million to municipal and county governments.
Another $1.034 billion is being distributed through mechanisms such as stimulus checks and other economic impact payments.
A third category, direct state and local funding, totals $996.5 million. There’s nearly $400 million going to the state Department of Education that includes $382 million for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSR) aid. There’s also $258 million that will flow through the Governor’s Office of Economic Development that includes $152 million for emergency rental assistance and $50 million for homeowner assistance.
The fourth category is capital projects, but there’s no guidance yet on how the $115.7 million can be spent, according to Mehlhaff. He said the money needs to be spent by December 31, 2024.
Gosch made clear he was no fan of the package that President Joe Biden, a Democrat, signed into law. It passed the 50-50 Senate with only Democrats voting for it and Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, breaking the tie.
“It feels like they put a number on the board and they’re walking backward to see how to spend it,” Gosch said. He thanked his yet-to-born great great grandchildren for agreeing to pay for it.
But Heinert reminded the board, “There still are South Dakotans that are struggling. The feds are trying to do what they can do.” He added, “Whether we agree with it or not, think of who we represent.”