District 8 lawmakers hear from citizens

Topics range from school funding to constitutional carry and electrical territories

While Flandreau area residents commented on issues before the Legislature this session, District 8’s representatives jotted down ideas and shared what they see happening with proposed bills in Pierre.
Several topics were important to local voters, including school funding, constitutional carry efforts, regulation of rural and municipal utility areas, a proposed civics test, 211 funding statewide and more.
Superintendent Rick Weber said the Flandreau district has seen an increase in the number of English Language Learner students, and money isn’t keeping up to allow enough teachers to serve them.
“We have two now. We probably need four,” he said the number of teachers for the growing number of students who come to school without being able to speak English. As additional dairies open in the area, the number of students is expected to grow.
Weber also commented on other bills saying that requiring special education services for home-schooled children would be a burden on staffing. If the state thinks schools need a civics test why not tests in other subject areas, such as math and English, as well, he asked. Civics is part of the school curriculum and the classes are taught according to state standards, he said.
With school funding, Gov. Kristi Noem is talking about 2.5 percent for schools, but last year with a 0.7 percent in one-time money, the increase is really only 1.8 percent, he said. He also asked lawmakers if they could fix a part of the accountability rules schools must follow that result in if one teacher taking the district’s insurance leaves and the replacement teacher doesn’t want insurance coverage, the school gets dinged. “Is there any way to change that a little bit instead of the benefits that are taken to the benefit that are offered?” he asked.
Wiese said she has a hard time believing that the special education for home schoolers bill will go anywhere. She also said other superintendents also are saying they need additional money for ELL students, too.
The budget will be tight with lot of additional needs in the state, she said. “Nursing homes are just a huge thing out there this year,” she said of the discussion on additional Medicaid funding so that the facilities are able to stay in business. “It’s going to be tough to find out where we can carve out more money for schools. We hear you guys.”
Sheriff Troy Wellman asked the lawmakers to work with the state sheriff’s association on any bill that would change concealed carry permits to constitutional carry practices. “We need to have to be able to take a bill like that that we can we agree with and stomach,” he said. “I have never heard complaints about the current system.”
It’s not hard to apply for a concealed carry permit, and it is not expensive, he said. He has denied very few permits in his 12 years as sheriff, he said.
Wiese said she agreed that permits are inexpensive and easy to obtain. “I think it gives law enforcement somewhere to start. I still think it’s a good system.”
Sen. Jordan Youngberg said the issue is a hot button issue, as Wellman described, and that the original bill has flaws. “Your concerns on that, that’s what we want to iron out.”
Gross asked Wellman how much discretion law enforcement has with issuing permits.
Wellman said there is a little bit, but “for the most part, by statute, it’s fairly black or white.”
In other questions,
•Bob Pesall, a city alderman and lawyer, said he drove to Pierre to testify in opposition to efforts by rural electric providers to limit municipal electric providers, including Flandreau, from carving into the rural territories. If a town needs to annex more property, those residents who live in the new neighborhoods should be able to have access to the city utility that they pay taxes to support, he said.
That would ultimately cause a conflict of interest with people in new neighborhoods wanting to build a park, for example, with city money that includes municipal utility earnings that they don’t contribute to. “That’s going to happen,” he said.
Youngberg said there is a lot of pressure in Pierre over the utility issue. “I’m hopeful that both sides are going to come to agreed-upon terms.”
District 8 has three rural electric companies, including East River Electric, Sioux Valley Energy and Central Electric. It also is home to four communities that are municipal electric providers: Flandreau, Colman, Madison and Howard.
Chris Studer, chief member and public relations officer at East River Electric in Madison, said the issue comes down to fairness. “Are we willing as a state to allow government to take over private business territory?” he asked.
Municipalities should not be able to take over just the profitable areas where they want to provide electricity, either, he said. Rural electrics are required to provide all customers within their territory with power. In addition, rural electric providers plan decades into the future for their energy needs, he said.
“If that gets taken away, there’s lost revenue there,” he said. “It’s going to be a complex issue.”
Rep. Randy Gross said the delay in filing the bill hopefully means the issue can be worked out. “You can see both sides of it very clearly, and they both have solid reasons.”
•Abigail Lewis, who attends school in Flandreau, asked the three Republican representatives what one thing they are working to pass this year.
Youngberg said he is trying to pass a law that regulates the new shrimp growing business planned for Madison. South Dakota doesn’t require health certificates to transport shrimp like it does for cattle and other farm animals. “We’ve never grown shrimp here so we have to have health certificates going in and out,” he said.
Wiese said she is working on finding more money in the state budget for nursing homes.
Gross said he is working on the budget as a member of the appropriations committee, a job that requires also looking at unintended consequences of added expenses.
•The Rev. Alan Blankenfeld asked the lawmakers to consider the bill that would fund 211 services statewide. In Moody County, a new group called Moody County Cares is working on finding money to pay for the service because it is important to provide suicide prevention and information, which is available by calling the 211 Helpline. “I think it’s important to the whole state,” he said.
Youngberg said he likes the idea, and on the senate side, legislators have been discussing it favorably. “We have to see what happens moneywise,” he said. “If we can save one, I’m 100 percent behind it.”
•Resident Bill Nibbelink asked Youngberg if he had signed the resolution to support Trump’s wall, and Youngberg said he did, although the resolution was amended and in the end, didn’t mention a wall. “Anytime you’re taking border security, you’ve got to protect your home,” he said.
But Youngberg said his personal opinion is he doesn’t think the resolutions do anything, yet lawmakers are forced to vote on them.
“I don’t see an issue with protecting our borders,” he said, as a reason why he supported it.


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