- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota lawmakers are in for a busy 2016 legislative session when they return Tuesday. The state’s financial picture has strengthened, putting lawmakers in better position to consider such goals as freezing college tuition and increasing pay for Medicaid providers. Here are some things to know as the session opens:

IN THE MONEY

South Dakota closed its last fiscal year with a budget surplus of more than $20 million, and better-than expected state finances factored into Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s ambitious new $4.8 billion budget.

The governor’s plan includes more than $80 million in new general state spending, with the money planned for higher outlays for education, Medicaid providers and state employees, among other targets.

Much of roughly $60 million in one-time spending for the current budget year would help pay off debt to help the state’s public universities and technical schools freeze tuition.



The bottom line for state lawmakers: More cash makes it easier to fund programs more than last year.

BUSTLING SESSION

Plenty of legislation is on the docket, with perhaps none more important than Daugaard’s proposal to expand Medicaid for disabled and low-income people. Well, unless it’s the widely held desire to do something to raise teacher pay that’s been called worst in the nation.

More details on that during the governor’s State of the State address on Tuesday.

Abortion bills are also in play, including a 20-week abortion ban. Another would require abortion providers to tell women undergoing drug-induced medical abortions that they may be able to reverse the procedure if they change their mind in time.

Other bills would govern bathroom use for transgender students, and let people grow hemp.

Democrats, who are in the minority in both chambers, say they will push for economic development and tighter government oversight.

GOP WILL TELL TALE

The Republican governor’s Medicaid expansion plan may wind up revealing a split between conservatives and moderates in his party, which controls both legislative chambers. Some GOP lawmakers see a troubled path in the state House, with concerns including state costs and ideological opposition to the federal health care law.

South Dakota Democrats are happy that two of their top issues, Medicaid expansion and teacher pay, are tops for some Republicans this year too.

KEY PLAYERS

Sen. Corey Brown will serve Senate Republicans as majority leader this session after the departure of former leader Tim Rave. Brown will lead negotiations for his chamber during discussions with the governor’s office and House Majority Leader Brian Gosch.

Kim Malsam-Rysdon, a senior adviser to Daugaard, is leading Medicaid expansion efforts for the governor’s office, including during complicated negotiations with the federal government. She has said a group Daugaard convened to investigate expansion is preparing to lobby lawmakers during the session.

GETTING INVOLVED

Have an issue that’s important to you? Get involved!

South Dakota residents can find their representatives on the Legislature’s website at www.legis.sd.gov . Lawmakers’ biography pages list contact information that constituents can use to offer comments or concerns.

The website also features a schedule of legislative hearings, where South Dakotans can testify on bills that are under consideration. If residents can’t make it to Pierre, they can listen live to many legislative hearings online courtesy of South Dakota Public Broadcasting at www.sdpb.sd.gov/statehouse .

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Follow James Nord on Twitter https://www.twitter.com/jvnord .

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