Lawmaker says Legislature’s COVID Relief Liaison Committee might meet only once

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The chairman of a special panel the Legislature established to work with the Noem administration on additional federal COVID-19 spending in South Dakota doesn’t expect another special session on that topic this year.

Senator Lee Schoenbeck said Monday the COVID Relief Liaison Committee might not need to convene more than once. The first meeting is set for 3 p.m. CT Tuesday, August 31.

The Legislature’s Executive Board decided on April 22 to set up the 10-member panel. According to official minutes from that meeting:

“The role of the committee will be to consult with the administration as to the implementation of COVID
relief programs and be a liaison between the administration and the Legislature, including leadership teams, caucuses, the Executive Board, and the Special Committee on Appropriations. The committee would provide advice to the administration regarding necessary actions to the effect of federal funds received under the COVID relief program.”

The governor’s budget office has been reporting about COVID programs on a regular basis to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee. Senator Jean Hunhoff and Representative Chris Karr chair the 18-member panel.

Last year, the Legislature held a special one-day session October 5 on COVID relief spending. Lawmakers passed one bill revising state government’s 2021 budget and one resolution.

That came after Governor Kristi Noem had already announced how she intended to spend hundreds of millions of dollars from the $1.25 billion that Congress steered to South Dakota, and after a series of special meetings where legislators took public testimony on how the money could be spread.

South Dakota received another $978 million from Congress this year. Various other direct payments were made from the federal government to South Dakota, too.

Schoenbeck said Monday he doesn’t see the new committee continuing beyond the January 11 start of the 2022 legislative session.

“When we knew there was another COVID relief bill (coming from Congress), but we didn’t know anything about the rules or guidance, the governor wanted a legislative vehicle to bounce plans off of, if we needed to spend the money fast – like last time,” Schoenbeck said.

“This was a compromise agreement vehicle, to avoid planning on a special session to deal with COVID funds. The (Noem) administration wanted to be sure that they had the House and Senate leadership support if they needed to do something with the money before we came back into regular session in January. It does not look like we have that pressing time issue, like last time.”

Asked what the new committee would do that the Appropriations Committee hasn’t been doing, Schoenbeck said, “I think Jean and Chris are doing a good job of covering the same questions we would be doing, which is why we are not having our first actual meeting until the end of August, and may not be having another one. The only real difference is that the COVID cash committee has all four leadership groups on it.”

That’s why Schoenbeck doesn’t think there will be a need for another COVID-related special session. The Legislature already is scheduled for a special session to draw new boundaries for the 35 legislative districts on November 8.

“I think the redistricting special session could get a day added for medical marijuana issues that there are consensus on. That wouldn’t surprise me. But, no COVID reason to have a special session,” he said.

Schoenbeck explained the purpose of the August meeting of the COVID committee.

“Because there are large numbers being tossed around from COVID cash, and one time monies of state dollars, there’s a lot of confusion about what we will or will not be able to do next session. The agenda for this meeting is designed to solicit information that will help legislators see what they can and cannot work on with the available funds,” he said.

“Also,” he continued, “the Legislature plans to be a part of any use of the funds, on the front end. This is the beginning of the opportunity to work together with the administration towards the budget address and (2022) session. It uniquely puts all four caucuses’ leadership at the table with the administration on the front end of the process. Hopefully, it’s a forum to build something together.”

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