Legislature to gather for Noem’s first session as governor
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Republican Gov. Kristi Noem is inheriting a state on solid financial footing as she enters her first legislative session as governor, joined by a Legislature that will consider tough-on-crime changes to South Dakota’s criminal justice system, looser gun laws and allowing sports betting in Deadwood.
Legislators gather Tuesday for the start of the 2019 session and Noem’s first State of the State address. A look at the agenda until lawmakers adjourn in late March:
Noem, a former U.S. representative, campaigned to lead state government on an extensive platform that ranged from opposing tax hikes to pushing for better government transparency. In a milestone, she is the state’s first female governor.
Noem has declined to reveal specifics about the policy agenda for her first session as she built her administration, but recently told reporters that she’ll release legislative priorities at the State of the State.
Noem was sworn in Saturday to succeed Republican Dennis Daugaard.
Lawmakers are benefiting from positive state financial projections as they prepare to set South Dakota government spending for the 2020 state budget year. Daugaard in his final budget plan proposed roughly $53 million in spending hikes, including 2.3 percent increases for education, Medicaid providers and state workers. Noem will formulate her own budget, which she said will be proposed in the coming weeks.
Noem has said she’s focused on putting together a budget that balances without raising taxes.
The cornerstone of new Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s legislative agenda will be reversing the state’s presumptive probation policy for some lower-level felonies. The policy has been credited with helping avert expensive prison population growth but criticized by some as tying judges’ hands.
Presumptive probation supporters argue that ending it would lead to imprisoning significantly more people after South Dakota in 2013 passed a Republican-led justice system overhaul to tackle overcrowding. Ravnsborg has said ending the practice would give a “formidable and necessary tool” back to the state’s prosecutors and courts.
House Majority Leader Lee Qualm said recently that he supports ending the policy. Qualm said lawmakers should also make changes to a juvenile justice system overhaul passed in 2015.
Some gun-rights supporters have been waiting for the Daugaard administration to end in hopes that they’ll have more success with their agenda. Expect to see measures this year that would allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit in South Dakota and bring concealed pistols inside the state Capitol. Those bills passed the Legislature in 2017, but Daugaard vetoed them. Noem has supported permitless carry in the past.
Qualm has said he plans to propose a Capitol carry measure because security can’t be everywhere in the building, all the time.
What’s the next draw for Deadwood? Sports betting (if supporters get their way). A gambling industry group plans to ask lawmakers for a 2020 ballot measure to bring sports betting to the historic mining town. The push comes after the U.S. Supreme Court in May cleared the way for all states to offer legal sports betting.
It’s not expected to hand the state a major tax windfall — a legislative analysis estimates the constitutional amendment would result in roughly $2 million in casino revenues and about $185,000 in new tax collections for its first state budget year — but supporters say it would help keep Deadwood competitive as a gambling destination.
ONLINE SALES TAXES
Lawmakers can expect pressure from a conservative group for tax cuts after the state’s U.S. Supreme Court victory last year cleared the way for new online sales tax revenues.
Americans for Prosperity-South Dakota is proposing a ballot question to phase in a half-cent sales tax cut over five year starting in 2021. The group’s state director says it’s a fallback if the Legislature doesn’t act.
The ballot question plan comes amid ambiguity in a law requiring a 2016 half-cent sales tax hike for teacher pay to be scaled back if the state got the ability to collect the tax on online purchases. The state began collections Nov. 1.
A legislative panel studying access to mental health services endorsed measures including expanding a telephone program that connects people with services for preventing suicide and addressing domestic abuse and child mistreatment.
The group also wants five task forces to examine different areas of mental health at a cost of roughly $95,000.
Senate President Pro Tempore Brock Greenfield said lawmakers in South Dakota and elsewhere must do whatever they can to solve opioid and methamphetamine abuse problems.