We are finishing our first week of the 2006 legislative session. Compared to last year, I am feeling so much better now that I am more familiar with the meeting rooms, committee and floor procedures, other legislators' and lobbyists' names and faces, as well as many of the same bills from last year that are being resubmitted. It is pretty overwhelming coming in the first year and being completely unfamiliar with the whole system, process and people.
I would like to thank everyone who provided me information on concerns regarding legislation in last year's session. I encourage you to again contact me if you have issues with any bills that come up this year. It is your information that I use to help decide how I am going to vote.
The majority of this week consisted of listening to departments describe their budgets (in appropriations), receiving department updates and trying to catch up on reading and assessing the 150 bills that are already submitted.
Some items to quickly talk about include the laptop computers the governor is proposing to provide to all high school students. As I was quoted in the Yankton Press and Dakotan, I am in favor of the laptop computers.
In my own work place, our whole department is going to a paperless system of documentation to communicate and coordinate patient care and treatments to other health care workers and other health care facilities. In the changing world we live in today, this is the direction work places are going. However, since this is the governor's idea to incorporate this type of infrastructure to the school system, it should also be funded primarily by the state. As a state legislator, I do not like unfunded mandates from the federal government and for that reason I do not believe it is right for the state to place an unfunded mandate on the school systems either. This project is being described as optional, and schools at this time are not being required to participate.
The other big point made by the governor in his state of the state address that I had not heard of before, is the purchase/transfers of 263 acres, plus an additional $8 million to provide for a building site for classrooms on the northwest side of Sioux Falls. The classes can be offered by any of the six state universities and colleges, so at least for now it will not be considered a new university or college. However, the 30-40 year plan and pictures shown to us of this site sure looks like it has the potential to be a new university. Up to this point and with the limited information provided, all I can say is that until I hear more I am not overly in favor of this idea.
Unemployment insurance is hitting commerce on Tuesday and there will be a number questions about how it funds and utilizes the money that goes into the future fund. The future fund receives a portion of the unemployment insurance money for economic development and literally takes money out of the unemployment insurance fund. The way claims have been increasing since 2001, the unemployment insurance is predicted to be in the red in two to three years if nothing is done. A number of changes are being proposed.
Other issues to watch for will be taxation, which is going to be an attempt to bring tax assessments up to actual values throughout South Dakota. Education has a large number of bills being submitted, ranging from increased funding, mandatory full day kindergarten, and requiring 18-year-old students to attend school classes until graduated. Sex offenders will have lots of attention with a number of bills coming at them both from the Legislature and the governor's office. There may be a new offense for those who harbor a sex offender.
All the bills currently submitted are on the South Dakota Legislature Web site if you are curious to see what is coming forward.
As always, feel free to contact me through the state Web site, and keep the American troops and their families in your thoughts and prayers.