- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 23, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota legislative board approved two summer studies Wednesday, one on financing for roads and bridges and another to consider alcohol distribution laws - both of which will likely lead to proposed legislation during the 2015 session.

Of the 19 possible studies presented to the Legislature’s Executive Board, the proposal by Sen. Mike Vehle to look at the needs and financing for roads and bridges was the top one ranked by legislators. Vehle, a Mitchell Republican, is the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. This topic was studied in 2008-09, but board members agreed that it should be reviewed again.

“Despite the fact that we studied this five years ago, the changing environment and magnitude of dollars involved warrants an ongoing look,” said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City.

On the topic of alcohol distribution, the board lumped three proposed studies into one. The topic arose during the session when legislation on the topic failed.

Board member and Speaker of the House Rep. Brian Gosch opposed the study. The Rapid City Republican questioned whether the summer study was driven solely by wine consumers who preferred purchasing their wine from out of state.

But other legislators said the existing laws governing alcohol distribution and sale in the state are archaic and encourage monopolies.

“As someone who’s industry there are definitely some issues and problems,” said Board Chairman Sen. Ryan Maher, who owns a bar and grill.

The Legislature has already authorized other studies for the summer. Those will explore child sexual abuse and economic development within tribes.

Tieszen said summer studies used to accomplish very little, but recent ones have resulted in good policy changes.

“When I first came to the Legislature, summer studies had a notoriously bad reputation,” Tieszen said. “The key is selecting an issue that can actually be solved by a summer study.”

Last year a committee studying domestic violence policies in the state brought six bills to lawmakers, five of them were signed into law this year.

The board also considered a proposal from Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, to study the possible effects and develop and contingency plan for long-term economic hardship. Hickey phoned into the meeting to pitch his study, saying the state and country are facing a “long economic winter” and should prepare for varying degrees of funding cuts.

“I’m not just talking about how to grow this, but how to preserve this,” he said about the state economy. “I’m not talking about fear, but wisdom.”

Rep. Charles Hoffman opposed the proposal, saying it would be based solely on speculation.

Other proposed studies that didn’t gain enough support include reviews of the fiscal impact of illegal immigration, expanded oil and gas exploration and fiscal and social impacts of gambling addiction in the state.

The committee also voted unanimously to have another panel that meets between sessions review school financing over the course of two years. The Legislative Planning Committee will study K-12 spending, revenue and accounting practices. It will be more involved than a summer study and include a review of teacher salaries and the state aid formula among other details.

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