- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A lackluster fiscal outlook will make for subdued state spending during the 2017 legislative session, but Republican plans to repeal an anti-corruption ballot measure just approved by voters are likely to prompt a racket at the statehouse.

Legislators return to Pierre on Tuesday for a double feature: The opening of session and Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s State of the State address. Here’s a look at what South Dakota lawmakers have on the agenda until they adjourn in March:

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TIGHT FINANCES

Lawmakers aren’t starting the session with gobs of cash to throw around. Daugaard offered a budget plan in December constrained by lower-than-expected tax collections, forcing officials to address a shortfall this year and rein in new spending for the next budget year. The governor has cautioned since that even the modest increases he’s proposed may need to be pared.

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GOVERNOR’S PRIORITIES

Daugaard this session plans pursue policies to address issues surrounding mentally ill people entering the criminal justice system. The governor is set to discuss a state workgroup’s recommendations to fight growing meth use and mounting drug arrests in his State of the State. Daugaard is also supporting changes to the state’s retirement system to make sure it’s sustainable by tying cost-of-living adjustments more closely to inflation, among other proposals.

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ETHICS OVERHAUL

Republican lawmakers are set to sweep away the high-profile ballot initiative that created an ethics commission, public campaign funding and limitations on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers. Daugaard said in December that he would be surprised if the overhaul survived the session.

A South Dakota judge put the law on hold while a court challenge from a group of GOP lawmakers and others moves forward.

The governor has suggested studying the issues covered by the initiative to find other solutions. Measure supporters say they’re prepared to fight for it in the Legislature - they’ve hired a lobbyist - and again at the ballot box if necessary.

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BILLS OF NOTE

After a bill failed last year that would have required transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender at birth, conservative group Family Heritage Alliance Action has said it “will encourage” legislation in 2017 on the same topic. Daugaard has said a twin bill would face the same objections that made him veto it last year.

Attorney General Marty Jackley is proposing new criminal conflict-of-interest penalties for public officials, changing it to theft, which is a felony when the value exceeds $1,000. That would be stiffer than the current misdemeanor self-dealing penalty.

A Republican House member plans to sponsor a bill that would allow people who can legally carry a concealed handgun in South Dakota to do so without a permit.

Other Republicans are weighing whether it should be more difficult for people to put initiatives before voters after a campaign season that brought in big money from out-of-state interests.

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NEW LEADERS

A new set of Republicans are set to assume top legislative posts during the 2017 session. Blake Curd, a Sioux Falls orthopedic surgeon, will head up the Senate Republican caucus, while farmer Lee Qualm, of Platte, will serve as House majority leader.

Sioux Falls Rep. Mark Mickelson will serve as House speaker and Brock Greenfield, of Clark, will be Senate president pro tempore.

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DEMOCRATS’ DECLINE

How many Democrats does it take to fill the Capitol? A lot more than the 16 who will serve in the upcoming session. Republicans gained two seats each in the House and Senate in November, upping their ranks to 89 out of 105 lawmakers, or about 85 percent.

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COME ON DOWN

South Dakota residents can find their representatives on the Legislature’s website at https://sdlegislature.gov. Lawmakers’ biography pages list contact information that constituents can use to show some love or heap on scorn.

The website also features a schedule of legislative hearings, where South Dakotans can testify on bills before lawmakers. If you can’t make it to Pierre, many legislative hearings can be found live online courtesy of South Dakota Public Broadcasting at https://www.sdpb.org/statehouse.

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

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