All bills should be off governor’s desk Friday

From what I hear, Gov. Dennis Daugaard will take some days next week for some personal R&R. Consequently he plans to have all of the legislation from the 2015 session cleared from his desk no later than Friday of this week. There are approximately two dozen bills still under consideration. He hasn’t issued a veto yet this session, according to the LRC web page. For those about which he’s been unsure, he listens to the committee testimony and the floor debates. That’s the same kind of detailed consideration he gives to appointments to state boards and commissions. So pay attention in the next 48 to 72 hours. Then you’ll know whether the Legislature has any vetoes to consider when lawmakers return for their scheduled working day 39 on March 30. Maybe they won’t need to return?

Mushing to election reform

Here’s the sponsor line from Senate Bill 69: “The Committee on State Affairs at the request of the State Board of Elections.” That’s not exactly true. SB 69 came from new Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, who took the ideas that wound up in the original version of the bill to the state board several times, first on Dec. 17 before she officially was in office, and again Jan. 5, the day she began by taking her oath. Departing Secretary of State Jason Gant showed her courtesy by arranging the Dec. 17 teleconference, despite Gant’s past history of being less than a fan of going through the board with proposed changes in state election laws. SB 69 was one of a handful of election bills all carrying the name of the state board in the 2015 session, but in truth the legislation came from Krebs and her staff. Unfortunately, minutes from the Jan. 5 meeting haven’t been posted on the Board of Elections page on the secretary of state’s Internet site. So we can’t refer readers to that record (yet). But what happened to SB 69 after its introduction can be tracked through the legislative process via the LRC website.

The Senate State Affairs Committee held SB 69 for a week beyond its originally scheduled hearing date, then Republicans on the panel heavily amended it to impose restrictions on candidate withdrawals. The bill won do-pass endorsement in its amended form 7-2 along party lines. On the floor of the Senate, the bill was further amended by Republicans and then approved 25-8, again on a party-line vote. In the House State Affairs Committee, the bill was further amended by Republican representatives; the only person speaking for the bill was Secretary of State Krebs, and the committee voted 10-3 for a do-pass recommendation, this time with one Republican joining the committee’s two Democrats in opposing it. On the House floor, after yet more amendments from Republicans, enough Republicans broke ranks and joined Democrats to deadlock at 34-34. Upon reconsideration, enough Republicans got back into line to pass it 41-25. The Senate refused to agree with the House version and sent the measure to conference committee.  That led to further amendments. The House adopted the conference committee version 50-16, with only Republicans voting for it, and three Republicans joining Democrats in opposing it. In the Senate, Republicans held together again and passed it 26-7, without any Republican opposing it, and with the bill picking up its only Democratic vote during the entire journey to passage, from Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge, who served on the conference committee.

Several members of the State Board of Elections, such as former state Sen. Mitch LaFleur, R-Rapid City, opposed the stronger requirements regarding candidate withdrawals. By the end, this bill no longer belonged to the state board. Nor did Secretary of State Krebs get it back into shape acceptable to the full state board. The candidate-withdrawal requirements are uncomfortable to some, and represent a big change from the long-practiced use of placeholder candidates by Democrats for legislative elections, but they don’t appear to violate anyone’s rights. However, the Senate committee was warned that the legislation appears to conflict with established court decisions elsewhere about how new political parties are treated. Some of the bill’s critics are calling for Gov. Dennis Daugaard to veto SB 69. If he does, he might be in for an override. Republicans in both chambers had enough ayes on final passage to meet the two-thirds majorities needed to negate a veto. This is a mushy mess without an easy fix. Don’t be surprised if the State Board of Elections thinks hard before allowing its name on any future piece of legislation for years to come.

The legislation doesn’t prohibit candidate withdrawals after the primary elections. However, to replace a withdrawn candidate, one of the criteria has to be met, such as unable to perform the duties of the office, or having moved.

Education task force will take shape soon

The task force that Gov. Dennis Daugaard plans for studying K-12 education in South Dakota will follow the general format used for the adult justice and juvenile justice reforms during the past three years, according to state Education Secretary Melody Schopp. She told the state Board of Education on Monday that members of work groups will be selected starting later this week. The main task force will be named later, she said. Teacher shortages, school funding and student achievement are three topics that the governor mentioned in early February when he announced the intent to convene a task force on education. Daugaard made the announcement with Republican legislative leaders. Democratic legislative leaders repeatedly mentioned their expectations for it during the final days of the 2015 session’s main run last week. After Monday’s state board meeting, president Don Kirkegaard of Sturgis said the task force could benefit from people outside South Dakota offering their perspectives.

Changes coming at top for Board of Regents

The official announcement this morning of Jack Warner’s decision to retire as executive director for the state Board of Regents means a search is under way for the next daily leader of South Dakota’s system of public universities. He will step down effective June 30, marking six years in the South Dakota post. He plans to return to Rhode Island, where he served seven years as commissioner for Rhode Island’s public university system.

Another change in the works is that Dean Krogman of Brookings will be finishing his time as president for the Board of Regents and will be retiring as well after the board’s meeting at month’s end. Then-Gov. Mike Rounds appointed Krogman, a lobbyist and former legislator, to the board effective April 1, 2003. One of his major clients is the South Dakota State Medical Association and he owns a realty firm. His current term expires this year. The replacement will be made by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

A soothing Sunday drive

I drove SD 34 between Pierre and Salem on Sunday afternoon and evening. The resident Canada geese could be seen pairing up. Some stretches along the highway stank, in the good way, of a long winter’s manure recently spread in the neighboring fields. Here and there colors could be seen changing in the small trees from winter’s dormancy to spring’s buds. Smaller hawks could be spotted on fence posts. As evening crept in, more rooster pheasants ventured into the road ditches. But not a hen was to be seen.

After the highway funding vote

This was the scene Friday afternoon in the state Senate chamber after the highway and bridge funding package, SB 1, passed. At bottom in the photo, Lt. Gov. Matt Michels (right) speaks with Sen. Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton. At top in the photo, Senate Democratic leader Billie Sutton of Burke (left) listens as Senate Republican leader Tim Rave of Baltic chats with the prime sponsor of SB 1, Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell (right, in bow tie). Mitch Rave, whose father is the senator, listens between Tim and Mike.

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Debt office gets Senate OK amid eight switches

The state Senate voted 19-15 this morning to approve HB 1228 creating an “obligation recovery center” for debts owed to state government, including universities and courts (and school districts that get the fine money), and money owed for restitution to victims of crimes. The Senate’s decision was final legislative approval, and the final fight was a real scrap, because the 18th aye vote from the previous Senate tally had come from Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, and he wasn’t able to attend session Thursday or today.

At first there looked to be the possibility of a 17-17 tie, because another important aye, Sen. Art Rusch, R-Vermillion, was back after being away Thursday with illness. Had there been a tie, Lt. Gov. Matt Michels could have cast the decisive vote, which would have been an aye because the Daugaard administration very much wants the center.

Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, announced his switch from a strong nay to, as he put it, “affirmative.” That signaled the replacement for Lederman’s missing aye. But there were many more switches.

Changing from aye to nay were Republican Bruce Rampelberg of Rapid City and Democrats Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge and Troy Heinert of Mission.

Changing from nay to aye were Democrats Angie Buhl O’Donnell of Sioux Falls and Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton, and Republicans Otten, Blake Curd of Sioux Falls and Deb Peters of Hartford.

The legislation had won House approval after amendments Thursday allowed passage on a simple majority. The bill now goes to the governor for his review and, presumably, signature.

Thanks to the careful watchers

I don’t always succeed at keeping up between the two chambers of the Legislature on days like Thursday. So I appreciate folks who let me know when I make an error that results from being unable to keep up. I think the worst jobs of the legislative session are those of the Senate secretary and the House clerk on days such as Thursday. They do marvelously well at keeping up. So hats off to House chief staff Arlene Kvislen, Senate secretary Kay Johnson and their teams at the front desks (and the staffs in the paperwork rooms).

Buckle up! (Or down?) It’s Day 38 (w/update)

Day 38 today is the final working day of the main fun — I mean run — of the 2015 legislative session for South Dakota.

We might see the first veto of the legislative session from Gov. Dennis Daugaard, and there’s no telling yet whether it could be SB 177, the new minimum wage for workers younger than age 18 ($7.50 per hour, and no annual inflation escalator, vs. the $8.50 that voters approved as the general minimum wage in the Nov. 4 ballot test with the inflation adjustment each year).

We also will learn today whether state government employees receive the governor’s recommended wage increases of 2 percent across the board and an additional 2.5 percent for those below the midpoint of their salary ranges. Those numbers could be reduced, however, by amendments under consideration by the Joint Committee on Appropriations, whose members are scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. today to begin assembly of the final version of the fiscal 2016 general budget bill, HB 1208. To see the full list of amendments list, go here.

Based on other reductions on special appropriations bills that moved through conference committees Thursday, don’t be surprised if there are some reductions in the employee compensation package. The good news, I suppose, is the Legislature isn’t expected to ask employees to give any of their past raises back.

Speaking of appropriations, there still needs to be work on HB 1228, the attempt by the Daugaard administration to create a state office — that would be run by a private company — to collect debts owed to state government including the courts and the universities and to crime victims. If the right amendments can be written to satisfy House Speaker Dean Wink that the bill doesn’t take a two-thirds majority as a spending bill — Lt. Gov. Matt Michels already has reached that interpretation — then the bill could probably get through the House. The bill had stalled in the House on Wednesday, falling two ayes and then one aye short of the 47 needed for two-thirds passage. The 1228 conference committee of House and Senate negotiators arrived at a set of amendments Thursday, but neither chamber took up the bill before adjourning. The amendments came on a 4-2 vote. (UPDATE: The House voted 46-23 to accept the amendments and give its approval to the bill, after Speaker Wink ruled that a simple majority was needed, on Thursday. The statement above saying the House adjourned without taking action is incorrect; a reader pointed out the mistake this morning. The Senate’s approval awaits.)

The full list of conference committees that met Thursday and those still working today is here. Beside the debt center issue and the general budget bill, the others of major consequence that could be resolved today are:

The elections reforms measure, SB 69, that began as a proposal by new Secretary of State Shantel Krebs with the backing of the state Board of Elections, and gradually also became a Republican punishment of Democrats over Democrats’ use of placeholder candidates who drop out after primaries, usually for legislative seats, and are sometimes replaced and sometimes not;

The big one, SB 1, the highway and bridge funding package, which would become known as the Bill To Nowhere if the Legislature doesn’t approve something this session now that both chambers are engaged to varied long lists of tax and fee increases and the governor is willing to allow their passage without a veto; and

Final adjustments to the current year’s budget in SB 55.

It’s unlikely the Legislature will be done working in time for supper tonight. Since not telling the truth some years ago and reporting two days as one in the official records, it seems unlikely the Legislature would repeat that stunt and seems likely today’s work will be done before the sun rises Saturday morning on Fun City

For what doesn’t get done today — and I think it all gets done today, other than any vetoes — there always is working day 39 on March 30, scheduled as the final day of the 2015 session.

As for the youth minimum wage, my gut says the governor signs it into law, despite him telling the South Dakota Retailers Association’s gathering back on Jan. 12, the eve of the 2015 session, that it would be a little bit of an affront to change what the voters passed. The youth minimum wage wasn’t part of the focus during the fall campaign, while the $8.50 and the inflation escalator were. But who knows what we might see from the same fellow who surprised many when he revealed during a re-election campaign debate that he didn’t believe in any minimum wage.

About the two-thirds majority on 1228

I spoke with Lt. Gov. Matt Michels this afternoon. He said he ruled that HB 1228, the debt-recovery center legislation, needed only a simple majority because the money is appropriated as part of the Bureau of Administration general appropriations bill. Legislative Research Council staff have advised differently that a two-thirds majority is necessary because a fund is created. House Speaker Dean Wink has been adhering to the two-thirds requirement. The latest strategy seems to be to adjust the bill so there’s no question. The bill fell short of 47 ayes twice in the House on Wednesday, first by two ayes and then by one aye. The bill went through the Senate 18-17. The two chambers face another vote either today or Friday.