The Senate Education Committee voted 6-1 Tuesday to endorse the latest proposal from Sen. Phyllis Heineman, R-Sioux Falls, to establish a scholarship program to help families afford tuition at non-public K-12 schools in South Dakota. Heineman fought like a mountain lion last year to get a version of the concept through the Senate before it perished on a tie vote in the House. This year, she’s proposing to limit the program to $2.5 million; it would allow insurance companies to donate money to a non-profit organization to provide scholarships and the companies in turn could reduce their state insurance-premium taxes by 80 percent of the donated amount. The measure, SB 159, could come up for debate by the full Senate as early as Thursday afternoon, although the Senate might be more inclined to carry the issue over to next week.
One of the committee members, Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, listened intently as Heineman presented her bill. The panel’s chairwoman, Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, looked to the side to listen to a question from another committee member. Outside the crowded hearing room, people listened from the hallway. Among them Jim Terwilliger of the state Bureau of Finance and Management, aka the governor’s budget office, listening at the door, while state Board of Regents member and former state Education Secretary Jim Hanson of Pierre paid close attention from a chair in the hall where he watched each witness testify.