- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Gov. Dennis Daugaard wants guidance from the state Supreme Court on the constitutionality of two bills at his desk, his office said Monday.

One deals with buffer strips of vegetation between farm fields and waterways and the other involves tax credits for private school scholarship donations.

Advisory opinions from the high court would resolve questions about the constitutionality of the measures that arose during legislative debates, Daugaard said in a statement. Daugaard has asked the Supreme Court for such an opinion one other time since he became governor, a spokeswoman said in an email.

The school choice bill would give insurance companies tax credits for contributions to help lower-income students attend private schools. The measure would allow companies to get an 80 percent tax credit for total contributions to a grant organization. The credits could total up to $2 million each budget year.

Some lawmakers thought that the bill would violate constitutional provisions blocking public funds from going toward religious societies or institutions. Sandra Waltman, a spokeswoman for the South Dakota Education Association, said the union believes there are “serious constitutional issues with the bill.”

House Majority Leader Brian Gosch, a main sponsor of the measure, said he is “100 percent” sure it is constitutional. The Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based libertarian group that defends school choice measures, said in a memo to state lawmakers earlier this month that the bill is constitutional and offered to defend the plan in court at no cost to the state if it is signed into law and later challenged.

The other bill would allow farmland that has been turned into a buffer strip of vegetation to be classified as non-cropland for property tax purposes, which would mean a lower tax burden for landowners.

Daugaard must make decisions by March 26 about whether to veto the bills or let them become law.

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