Greetings from the State Capitol! We had a very busy week this week. Wednesday, Feb. 23 was crossover day and debate raged on the Senate floor until 6 p.m. to cause all the Senate Bills to �crossover� to the House.
Several key bills that could have a positive impact on K-12 education funding were passed. We had intense discussion on the floor Wednesday afternoon as we worked to find the best solutions and alternatives to the proposed flat 10 percent cut to education:
I co-sponsored SB 152 (primed by Senator Rhoden (R-Union Center) and it passed 28-7 after lengthy debate. According to the state�s Cutler-Gabriel school funding formula, any decrease in state aid would also result in a drop in local mill levies. The bill would keep property taxes at their current rate rather than lowering them as would normally result from the Cutler-Gabriel amendment (for just the 2012 budget). SB 152 essentially freezes local mill levies at their current rate. With this bill, the state still pays more than half of the per student allocation (PSA) and would result in lessening the 10 percent cut in funding by nearly 5 percent.
Another controversial bill that passed in the Senate this week is SB 156, which would provide for penalties for businesses that knowingly employ illegal aliens. I opposed this bill as it is covered by federal law. The state of South Dakota is already involved in a Supreme Court case that originated in Arizona as a result of its new state law which attempts to regulate immigration matters covered by Federal INS laws. Our attorney general has filed an amicus curiae brief in this case at very little cost.
If this bill were passed and signed into law it would probably be challenged on the basis of being unconstitutional and then the attorney general would have to expend significant time and resources defending it. At a time when the state is facing a major shortfall in revenues, I did not think it was a good time to pass such legislation. Also, in the testimony given in Senate Judiciary, a committee I serve on, there was no testimony to indicate that we had an immigration problem in South Dakota.
Another bill, SB 141, would grant limited immunity from arrest and prosecution to minors who have been drinking alcohol who call 911 or assist someone who needs emergency medical attention. This bill was brought because currently on college campuses some students do not report problems for fear that they themselves might get arrested. Called by some the �Good Samaritan Bill,� SB 141 simply protects students who do the right thing, even when the circumstances might not be ideal.
We still have a long road ahead of us and many issues to address before the end of this session. No definitive decisions have been made yet with regards to the budget or cuts to education and Medicaid. On the Senate side we now have multiple House bills to hear in committee. These final two weeks are bound to be our busiest of the session as we proceed to balance the budget for 2012. Like so many other states we are facing a very challenging economic situation.