Education funding issues, a crackdown on meth dealers and reforming the initiated measure and referendum process were among topics brought up by area citizens at a legislative cracker-barrel session Saturday in Flandreau.
About 25 area constituents attended the event hosted by the Flandreau Development Corporation. The stop was one of four across District 8 for lawmakers Rep. Leslie Heinemann, Sen. Jordan Youngberg and Sen. Marli Wiese.
With several educators in attendance, including superintendents Rick Weber from Flandreau and Peter Books from Rutland, the discussion included funding for schools, school lunch mandates, letting homeschool students participate in activities and the age at which children would be required to start school.
Weber reminded lawmakers that a half-cent collected in sales tax is required to go to education above the annual cost-of-living increase. “You made the law. It can’t go anywhere else,” he said.
But the state is putting that money into the general budget, which is should not do, Weber said.
Heinemann said Weber’s point is valid. “I’m optimistic that education will get more,” he said.
Weber also is concerned about a bill that would prohibit schools from denying a student lunch when there is no money in the child’s account.
“You’re getting to the point where nobody is going to have to pay for lunch,” he said. Parents also won’t feel any need to fill out paperwork to receive free or reduced-priced lunches, he said. “If you allow kids just to go through the line if they don’t have money in their account, then it just goes back to taxpayers.”
A simple, alternative lunch is offered when a child’s account is empty, parents are notified when their child needs lunch money and there is an angel fund that can help pay for a lunch in an emergency, Weber said. “That gets chewed up quickly.”
Lawmakers didn’t have many comments on the issue. “Really, you can’t talk to these parents and make some arrangements?” Wiese asked.
Books from Rutland said that none of the school administrators he has talked to in District 8 oppose home schooled children participating in public school activities. But the issue should be left to the districts to decide because they pay for those children to participate even though the districts don’t receive money for it.
Because it is an unfunded mandate, it is a bad bill, he said.
Wiese said she wouldn’t support the bill at this point without some amendments.
“We talk about local control all the time on the education committee. There are just some issues that don’t work,” she said in making the point that there needs to be one statewide set of rules. “We’re asked to try and make something work for all.”
Heinemann said that schools might get home school students to enroll if they enjoy being in an activity, which could mean funding eventually.
Youngberg said the bill started out only addressing sports, and passage doesn’t look promising at this point.
Weber said the school is against setting the school start age at 7 years old.
Wiese, who signed on to the bill, said she only heard part of the reasons for it and now doesn’t know why sponsors want it. She will need to hear more rationale in order to understand fully the bill’s purpose, she said.
Defense lawyer Bob Pesall of Flandreau asked for clarification on the purpose of a methamphetamine crackdown bill Attorney General Marty Jackley is pushing. The language in the bill is too narrow and may apply to one addict sharing with another addict, he said.
Youngberg said the intent is to go after dealers or those making the drugs.
“With these AG bills, they’re not after the addicts. We’re going after the kingpins in this state,” he said. “One user to another user, that’s not what we’re after. We’re after the people making it in large volumes.”
Heinemann said as the law is now, there is little incentive for people charged for using the drug to testify against a dealer. “There’s not a lot of incentive for people to come forward,” he said. “His (Jackley’s) intent is trying to get through to the kingpins that are bringing it in.”
Bill Nibbelink of Flandreau asked if the legislators support allowing citizens the right to bring an issue to a public vote given the numerous bills in the legislature that attempt to change the procedures. The ballot measure was approved in 2016 by voters statewide as a way to improve campaign finance and ethics laws but was later repealed by lawmakers, a decision signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
Heinemann said the legislature is attempting to clarify the process of circulating petitions and paying for ballot measures. Wiese also said the bills are a way to tighten things up.
Youngberg said IM 22 was bad and state laws should eliminate outside money and influence in the referral process. “There’s nothing good about out-of-state influence,” he said.
“I 100 percent want the people of South Dakota to have that process, but I want the people of South Dakota to have that,” he said.
Nibbelink also asked how the lawmakers stand on allowing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations to have the ability to run manure lines on public right-a-ways without landowners having a say.
Heinemann, who said he has neighbors who do that, said he would need to look closer at the bill specifics. Prohibiting it would hinder the process of his neighbor getting manure to fields, he said. “Personally, I think it’s a little overreach for the government.”
Youngberg said the bill really is a local government bill that allows a county board to authorize and regulate the issue at their discretion.