Legislative Roundup: zombie bills, teacher pay, lithium tax, pipelines and more

The South Dakota House of Representatives convenes on Feb. 5, 2024. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

John Hult, South Dakota Searchlight

One of the effects of a faster start to this year’s legislative session in Pierre has been the prevalence of “zombie bills,” given new life after an initial defeat.

Rather than allowing the first week of session to pass with little action, as was often the case in years past, lawmakers jumped right into bill hearings. The earlier start gave some ideas extra time to rise again after death.

Early in January, Rep. Tyler Tordsen, R-Sioux Falls, unsuccessfully sponsored a resolution that would have asked voters if they’d like to choose candidates for attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer and other “constitutional” state offices through primary elections. Party leaders currently pick those candidates at conventions.

Tordsen’s second attempt took the form of a bill to create primaries for attorney general and secretary of state, and to allow governor candidates to choose their own running mates without needing approval at a convention. The House rejected that bill on Wednesday.

Another example: Sen. Brent Hoffman, R-Sioux Falls, sponsored a school safety bill that was rejected Jan. 11 during the first week of the session. He filed a new bill cutting the requirement for armed guards at every school, but the bill failed in the Senate on Jan. 31.

And another example: A committee rejected a bill targeting drag performances at college campuses 7-4 on Jan. 24. The next day, a new bill with a different sponsor popped up, targeting drag performances more broadly. That second bill is scheduled for its initial hearing this week.

Democratic Assistant Minority Leader Erin Healy, from Sioux Falls, called the multiple bills targeting drag shows “an abuse of the system.”

“It’s just unfortunate that we’re sitting here having to listen to these bills again, having to listen from opponents and proponents who’ve already testified, people who have to come back into town to be here for these pieces of legislation,” Healy said.

Republican leaders countered that revived ideas and reworked bills are part of a healthy process. Senate Republican Majority Leader Casey Crabtree, from Madison, said they haven’t delayed the overall pace of the session.

“That is the most important thing to people in South Dakota, which is productivity,” Crabtree said. “That’s what the session’s been on the House and Senate side, being very focused on business and tackling tough issues because we were prepared when we came here.”

Teacher pay

Rep. Tony Venhuizen, R-Sioux Falls, withdrew his minimum teacher salary bill last week, leaving the Department of Education’s accountability bill as the only teacher pay bill standing. But Venhuizen’s push for a minimum teacher salary hasn’t died. House Speaker Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, is proposing an amendment to the department’s bill that would effectively combine the two.

The amendment would require a statewide minimum teacher salary of $48,000, which would increase each year based on the percent increase in state education funding. School districts would also have to meet average teacher salaries aligned with legislative funding increases. There is no new funding for schools in the bill.

House Bill 1048 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Education Committee on Monday.

Statewide public defender office

A bill to establish a statewide public defender office passed the House on Thursday with a 60-4 vote. The office would cost $1.4 million annually and would help alleviate the financial burden counties face in providing legal representation to criminal defendants who can’t afford an attorney. Counties would still shoulder much of the burden, with the state office take on only some types of cases. An amendment passed by the House establishes 12-year term limits for members of the commission that would oversee the office. The bill’s next stop is a Senate committee.

Making it easier for communities to become cities

A House bill making it easier for some communities to become incorporated cities passed through the Senate Local Government committee Wednesday on a 5-2 vote. The bill, which was motivated by the community of Black Hawk, now heads to the Senate floor. In Black Hawk’s case, the bill would retain a requirement for Black Hawk to petition Rapid City for annexation before trying to become a city in its own right, but would remove a requirement for Black Hawk to additionally petition the city of Summerset.

Registering to vote with tribal ID cards

A bill that would allow Native Americans in South Dakota to register to vote using their tribal identification cards passed the Senate with a 29-3 vote Monday after being amended to go into effect in 2025 – after the election this November. The bill now goes to a House committee.

Policies on ‘obscene’ books

A bill that would require school districts and public libraries to publish policies on restricting minors from accessing obscene materials or books is sailing through the legislative process. The bill received unanimous support from the House last week and now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Child pornography

A bill to ban the production, possession and distribution of computer-generated child pornography passed the House of Representatives on Monday on a 64-1 vote. The bill also separates child porn cases into categories by severity, with production being the most severe and possession being the least, and adds mandatory minimum sentences. Its next stop is the governor’s desk.

Higher price for bad checks

On Monday, the governor signed a bill hiking the maximum fee for a returned check. Come July 1, businesses will be allowed to charge up to $60. The previous limit was $40.

Overdose deaths

The full Senate passed a bill 32-0 on Monday to stiffen the penalties for selling drugs that later kill their users. The harshest penalty listed in the bill – up to life in prison – is attached to the crime of selling fentanyl to a minor if that minor dies from an overdose. The bill is headed to a House committee.

No pot for forklift drivers

A bill to allow employers to penalize or fire medical cannabis users who work in safety-sensitive jobs and fail drug tests was delivered to the governor on Thursday. The House of Representatives passed it 58-7 on Monday.

Lithium mining tax

A bill to impose a tax on lithium mining failed in the Senate by one vote Thursday, 23-9 (with two senators excused), needing a two-thirds majority of 24 votes to pass. A procedural motion to reconsider the bill has kept it alive for the time being, with potential further action this week. Companies are exploring for lithium in the Black Hills to feed the growing need for lithium-based batteries in electric vehicles and devices.

911 surcharges

A bill to increase funding for 911 call centers by raising phone customers’ monthly surcharge from $1.25 to $2 per line passed a Senate committee in a 4-2 vote on Thursday and now the full Senate. In 2023, the existing surcharge generated about $12.47 million in revenue. With the proposed increase and assuming no change in the number of service lines, the projected revenue is approximately $19.95 million. The surcharge has not been increased since 2012.

SDSU dairy

A bill that would repeal $7.5 million in state funding for South Dakota State University to construct a new dairy research and training facility passed the House of Representatives 48-16 on Thursday and now heads to a Senate committee. The original funding bill, which passed in 2021, was intended to support the development of a state-of-the-art dairy facility, but the university was unable to raise enough matching donations to construct the facility.

$500 for land surveys

A bill stipulating that any person or entity looking to conduct an examination or survey on private property must have a pending or approved siting permit application with the state passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, 47-17. Additionally, entities seeking to enter private property for surveys would have to make a one-time payment of $500 to the property owner as compensation for entry. The bill, which is a response to a proposed carbon dioxide pipeline, now heads to a Senate committee.

Pipeline payments

A bill specifying that carbon dioxide pipeline easement agreements would not be allowed to exceed 50 years and would automatically terminate if not used for the transportation of carbon dioxide within five years from their effective date passed the House of Representatives on Monday, 40-24. Landowners would be entitled to annual compensation for granting the easement, set at a minimum of $1 per foot of pipeline each year the pipeline is active. The bill now heads to a Senate committee.

Recouping landowner legal fees

A bill requiring entities using eminent domain to cover some legal costs for landowners under certain conditions passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, 61-3. It says that if the final amount awarded to the property owner to access land is at least 20% higher than the offer made when the entity sued the landowner, the entity must reimburse the landowner for attorney fees. The bill is a response to a proposed carbon dioxide pipeline.

Hunting and fishing residency

Senate Bill 54 imposes stricter criteria to qualify for resident hunting and fishing licenses. The governor signed the bill Monday.