Between The Lines

Between The Lines By David Lias Amazement.

Delight.

Confusion.

Perhaps all three of these sentiments describe South Dakotans' feelings after hearing word that Gov. Bill Janklow signed Senate Bill 95 into law.

We aren't about to join in the bandwagon of people who have been heaping praise on the legislation's prime sponsor, Sen. Frank Kloucek, a Democrat from Scotland.

It appears that Gov. Bill Janklow, who clearly isn't fond of Kloucek, had to hold his nose while signing this bill into law. That, and statements Janklow made while Kloucek was basking in the spotlight after his supporters called his bill perhaps his most significant accomplishment in the Legislature, leaves us wondering.

Is SB 95 really a good bill?

Or did Janklow sign it so that in a year or so, when Kloucek, his fellow Democratic lawmakers and struggling farmers return to Pierre for another legislative session, the governor can rightly tell them, "I told you so."

Janklow has not kept his feelings about this controversial bill to himself. He said the law, which goes on the books July 1, may backfire on the livestock industry in South Dakota, but he hopes he is wrong.

The bill will require meatpackers to report the prices they pay for cattle, hogs and sheep.

"The more I read it, the more I think there's things wrong with it," Janklow told reporters.

Of course, not everyone agrees with Janklow. Sen. Paul Dennert of District 2 notes that 13 other states are considering similar legislation. In a letter he faxed to newspapers across South Dakota, Dennert notes that 57 percent of all pork and at least 30 percent of beef purchased by meatpackers in the United States is bought on a contract basis.

Packers do not publicly report the prices they pay in contracts, so only they are aware of the actual price of cattle or hogs. Dennert expresses confidence in the legislation, noting that it will give producers access to the same price information that packers take for granted.

Senate Bill 95 filled the capitol with farmers and ranchers who insisted that it be passed without changes. Few bills go through the lawmaking process without any change, and many bills are changed extensively as they are reviewed in the House and Senate.

"I knew this freight train was moving too fast, but that's the way all the people that wrote that law wanted it," Janklow said of SB 95.

"The people that wanted it got it," he said "Now let's see if it works."

Dennert notes that producers who do not have accurate price information will tend to sell their product at a price lower than they would if they would have had more accurate information.

Meatpackers who must report the prices they pay are going to be leery of making purchases, the governor said. "I just think they're going to quit buying."

The bill contains at least one major flaw, Janklow said. It does not cover the purchase of South Dakota livestock that will be slaughtered in other states, he said.

The measure says packers who buy livestock for slaughter in South Dakota must report prices.

"If a packer purchases livestock for slaughter in another state, that section doesn't apply to them," the governor said. "That is not what anybody meant, but that is exactly how this law reads."

Supporters have said the new law should give South Dakota farmers and ranchers more bargaining power in dealing with meatpackers.

The measure could have a significant influence if other states pass similar laws, said House Democratic Leader Pat Haley of Huron.

"It is the enforcement provision that tells packers that they will not boycott or isolate the state of South Dakota because of the price reporting requirements," Haley said.

The problem of low livestock prices cannot be fixed by states, the governor said. It is an issue that must be dealt with on the federal level, he said, although adding he is doubtful that will be done.

"No one in Washington has guts enough to deal with this," he said.

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