Legislative Cracker Barrel highlights busy session

The Belle Fourche Chamber of Commerce sponsored a Legislative Cracker Barrel Saturday at the Jumpin Jacks Restaurant in Belle Fourche. Pioneer photo by Lacey Peterson

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BELLE FOURCHE — Community members poured into the Jumpin Jacks Restaurant in Belle Fourche Saturday to attend a Legislative Cracker Barrel and discuss a variety of topics with District 28 Reps. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, and Sam Marty, R-Prairie City; and District 29 Reps. Gary Cammack, R-Unon Center, Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, and Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, who gave updates on the current legislative session.

Dr. Warren Wilson, chief information officer for BHSU, moderated the event, asking the legislators to introduce themselves and the issues they feel are the most pressing.

Rhoden said the legislature is dealing with more than 600 bills, double last year’s number, and that the biggest issue on his docket is nonmeandered waters bill dealing with recreational activity on these types of waters.

Nonmeandered waters are areas of flooded ground on private lands. Rhoden said that although it is not much of an issue on the Western side of the state, it is a “huge issue in the Northeast (part of South Dakota) … and (the state had) been working to resolve the issue for something like 20-30 years.” 

“Last year, the Supreme Court told the Legislature, ‘Yes indeed, the water is a public trust, but it’s up to the Legislature to define how to use that public trust,” he said. 

The sunset provision on the bill was extended to this year, and legislators are now tasked with either another extension or removal of the sunset provision.

“It’s a huge issue for property owners all across the state because it really cements down our position on property rights,” Rhoden added. “So, I’m very involved in trying to get that across the finish line.”

The South Dakota House State Affairs Committee is handing a number of bills related to elections, petition circulators, and collections, many aimed at addressing problems the state has seen in recent years related to the issues.

“South Dakota has become a proving ground for a of number out-of-state organizations to pass legislation that I think otherwise wouldn’t have gotten across the finish line,” Rhoden said. “I think IM22 is the classic example of what we went through last year and the product of that.”

Initiated Measure 22, the so-called Anti-Corruption Act, was aimed to put in place a series of regulations meant to ensure more oversight of and transparency in state government.

While good intentions by legislators trying to make it more difficult for out of state organizations to get topics on the ballot, Rhoden said he is concerned what increased restrictions could do to legitimate instate organizations.

“Because if we make it more difficult for an out-of-state organization to influence our election, in some cases, we (would) make it even more difficult for legitimate in-state grassroots organizations to put something on the ballot so we’ve got to be real careful and judicious in our approach in passing new legislation,” he said.

Cammack spoke of a bill drafted that entails a proposal that would allow for the building of a precision agriculture facility at South Dakota State University campus in Brookings.

“And that’s got to do with the exact placement of seed, the exact placement of fertilizer, precise amounts of fertilizer … “ he said.

No university in the nation offers a degree in precision ag.

“And that is the leading edge of agriculture,” Cammack said. “That’s what is going to allow us to double our food production (nationwide) by 2050 because they say that with the population that’s growing in the world, we’re going to need to double the amount of food that we produce right now, and this is an important step.”

Bruner shared that he brought a couple of newspaper bills to the legislature that would allow smaller towns the choice of whether to publish meeting minutes in the municipality’s legal newspaper. 

“Obviously, we’re all aware what the Rapid City Journal has done to Sturgis, Belle Fourche, Newell, and those entities, so this was kind of a response to that,” he said.

“Not that anybody is trying to hide any minutes, but when you have circulation of a newspaper that goes to less than 10 percent of the people, is it really serving them well anyway?” Brunner added. “With internet access the way it is, I think we ought to be moving towards putting minutes on the internet and going that route.”

This bull died in committee.

Increasing the state alcohol tax was another issue Brunner discussed Saturday.

“Many of you last fall went through a series of town hall meetings in Newell, Belle Fourche, Sturgis, Spearfish, have been bringing our attention to what alcohol is costing our society, and this is just kind of a response to that,” he said.

Brunner said that one bill involves a 5-cent drink tax of which 100 percent would be returned to communities for investment in education and alcohol abuse prevention programs.

“The other one is a little more substantial, it’s 25 cents a drink, but it’s a shotgun approach,” he said. “A lot of that money goes into a formula where half of it goes to the state and the rest of it goes to the counties and cities.”

Brunner said he’s looking forward to the conversation in the Legislature.

“Alcohol (abuse) costs our counties a lot of money,” he said.         

Maher, who serves as the senate assistant majority leader, said he’s been working some of the issues facing those on the two American Indian Reservations that are in his district. Senate Bill 88 was the first, dealing with disinterment.

He explained of a recent instance where an American Indian woman was adopted off the reservation who, upon her death, wished to be buried back on reservation lands. After she was buried next to her ancestral relatives, Maher said, her adopted mother from California had the woman’s body exhumed and cremated.  

“Well, that got the tribes in an uproar,” he said. 

As a result, Maher said, there is now some legislation in place that requires the state to communicate with the reservation prior to the issuance of a disinterment permit.

The legislators attended a cracker barrel in Sturgis Saturday prior to visiting with constituents in Belle Fourche.

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