- Associated Press - Monday, March 9, 2020

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - With deadlines looming, lawmakers scrambled on Monday to decide on several high-profile initiatives, including legalizing industrial hemp, Gov. Kristi Noem’s streamlining of county permits for feedlots and allowing written driver’s license exams to be taken in Spanish.

Lawmakers met for extended hours, and budget negotiations entered final stages. As lawmakers pushed to meet a deadline to get proposals cleared by both the House and Senate on Monday, here’s a look at what survived.

HEMP

Lawmaker’s push to legalize industrial hemp entered a state of flux as the Senate rewrote the 26-page bill that Noem’s office had helped craft with one placeholder sentence stating that lawmakers will implement a plan for hemp.

Senators who supported the rewrite insisted that the hemp bill is not dead.



Senate Majority Leader Kris Langer, a Dell Rapids Republican, said the rewrite process will give them more time to “promote ongoing discussions.”

Langer and other Senators in favor of hemp said they expect the hemp bill to come back the way it was written, just with the governor’s figures for funding included in the bill.

Noem and lawmakers appeared to take one more step towards resolving their year-long dispute hours before the Senate meeting as the governor announced a proposal to allot $3.5 million in the state budget.

The Republican governor has argued the hemp program will change the way the state enforces its marijuana laws and wants $3.5 million in the state budget for 15 new staff positions, testing equipment, drug storage and beefed-up law enforcement.

“It had to be done in a responsible manner,” Noem told reporters on Monday.

Lawmakers in the House have argued that those cost estimates are excessive and the program could be implemented under the Department of Agriculture at a much lower price.

SPANISH LANGUAGE TESTS

The House passed a proposal to allow South Dakotans the option to take the written-portion of driver’s license examinations in Spanish.

A coalition of business groups and members of the Latino community pushed the proposal as an important boost to helping Spanish-speakers get driver’s licenses that help them get to work and attend school.

Several Republican lawmakers opposed to the bill argued that offering Spanish exams would discourage people from learning English and assimilating into communities. They also raised concerns over paying for the exams.

“This is a no tax, no cost bill,” said Rep. Jess Olson, a Rapid City Republican who pushed the bill. She said a private donor has offered to pay for the costs of offering written tests in Spanish.

She also argued that learning to drive would help people integrate into communities.

RIOT BILL TWEAK

The Senate passed a “companion bill” to clean up some of the language in Noem’s proposal to revive the state’s riot laws.

The companion bill gets rid of the term “riot boosting,” which refers to civil penalties for people or groups that incite rioting. It also strikes a phrase in the bill that would allow a “third party” to seek civil damages from people who incite a riot and clarifies that civil penalties can only be levied for “damages,” not “liabilities.”

Sen. Red Dawn Foster, a Pine Ridge Democrat who opposed both bills, said this proposal “is a bit better, but it still has the same intent” as the original bill.

Noem has argued her proposal ensures peaceful protests are protected. The Legislature already cleared that bill.

STREAMLINED PERMITTING

The South Dakota Legislature cleared Noem’s proposal to streamline the decision-making process for county permits.

The governor pitched the bill to lawmakers this year as a way to “set the rules of the game” for permit decisions and encourage economic growth in rural communities. The bill paves the way for feedlots and other projects like wind farms and makes it more difficult for people to contest permit decisions once they are made.

The House amended one line of the bill to stipulate that permit decisions have to be made by a majority of the county board, not just those who are present at the meeting.

The House passed the bill on Monday, and it will next proceed to Noem’s desk to be signed into law.

STATEWIDE CRISIS HOTLINE

The House passed a proposal to require the statewide expansion of a crisis hotline designed for people in a mental crisis or struggling with addiction issues, but the House and Senate are at odds over who should pay for the bulk of its funding.

The Senate passed a version that would require the state to pay for counties to establish hotlines, but the House version puts most of the financial burden on counties, pitching in 50 cents of state funding for every dollar that counties put towards their hotline.

Rep. Linda Duba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, said the funding was important to expanding the hotline to rural counties.

The difference will be settled this week.

The bill is part of a series of bills looking to bolster the state’s mental health resources.

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