Legislative Report by Sen. John Reedy Several bills important to District 17 are currently being discussed. Every proposed piece of legislation must first be reviewed by a committee before it can be considered by either the Senate or the House. I serve on the Agriculture, Education, and Local Government Committees and will be working hard to represent the needs and interests of all residents in Clay and Turner Counties.
One very important bill discussed this week is a proposal to promote the development of value-added agriculture in South Dakota. Senate Bill 5, if passed, will establish a fund to finance feasibility studies for ag-processing plants and other value-added endeavors. Such studies are the first step to receiving the loans necessary to begin any new business.
Agriculture is our largest industry. It contributes $17 billion per year to our economy and directly employs over 42,000 South Dakotans. Nevertheless, we are 20 years behind our neighboring states in the area of value-added processing. As a result, we are forced to export 80% of our wheat, 70% of our corn and soybeans, and 65% of our calves to other states. We must then import our flour, cooking oils, and other finished products. Ever since my first term in Pierre, I have fought to improve and diversify our agricultural economy. Another important proposal, SD 1, will provide a measure of fairness to property taxes. I fully support this bill. It protects farmers from the irrational and unfair increases in their tax assessments that now occur when neighbors sell agricultural land at a very high premium for non-agricultural uses.
I am also closely monitoring several proposals currently being considered by members of House. Some of these bills concern how we raise money to fund our state and local roads. Proposals include an increase in license plate fees to $60 and an increase in the gas tax of 3 cents. We currently have a $2 billion backlog in road repairs. County roads make up 90% of this backlog. Furthermore, if we do not raise some money, we risk losing a very substantial portion of the federal money we receive to improve our highway system. Nevertheless, we need to insure that the manner of financing our roads remains fair and affordable. We also need to guarantee that local counties will receive an adequate share of any funding.
In the next few weeks, I will also be working to provide scholarships to our state universities for our top high school graduates. Too many of these students accept money from out of state schools and are lost to South Dakota forever. I will also be supporting legislation to establish a tuition pre-payment program so that all families can afford to send their children to college. We also need to insure that every public K-12 student attends a rigorous school with high personal and academic standards. I am therefore going to advocate legislation which ends social promotion in our schools.
As the legislative session progresses, I will be working especially hard to improve the affordability of health care. Every year, we see various new regulations regarding insurance companies and managed care policies.
If you need more information or have any ideas on how we can work together to improve South Dakota, please contact me at 624-2210. I also invite you to attend this week's cracker-barrel, Saturday, Jan. 30 in Vermillion. The local legislative delegation will be there to listen to your concerns and explain current legislation.