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MERCER: Lawmakers, governor working on 2015 legislation

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- The 2014 legislative session ended March 31 in a matter of 10 minutes without any vetoes to consider on veto day. But discussions already were brewing on significant issues that will get attention in the 2015 session that opens Jan. 13.

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Coming are recommendations from the task force on pheasant population that the governor appointed after the Huron summit in December.

And the workforce development study and the railroad service study that Gov. Dennis Daugaard commissioned last year as well.

We also look forward to consideration of the rural-roads situation, where counties and townships want more freedom to spend or more help from state government -- or both.

If you watch the price spread between E-10 and straight unleaded gasoline, you'll notice it's now in the 20-cent range after the rules changes made two summers ago.

That raises the question of whether the 2-cent tax break is still needed for ethanol blends after 30 years -- and whether that uncollected revenue might be helpful for South Dakota's road system.

The Lottery Commission, rebuffed by legislators on raising the $2 bet limit for video lottery and allowing establishments to have more than 10 video lottery machines, will look again at how to generate more revenue for state government.

The Legislature's permanent task force on agricultural land assessments will consider changes in the definition of agricultural property for tax purposes.

Legislation that came out of Pennington County to redefine agricultural land gathered a lot of traction in the 2014 session, but didn't have the blessing of the task force or county officials statewide.

Likely to be part of that issue is the freeze on agriculture's portion of K-12 general-education funding.

The freeze was meant to ensure agriculture kept paying its share, but it also meant agriculture didn't pay more during the recent years of rising land values.

Land values will underlie talks among legislators on teacher salaries.

Look for proposals on increasing state general funding for the state universities and the four public technical institutes.

The tuition and mandatory fees freeze for residents at the universities approved by the Board of Regents, and the tuition freeze (but increased fees) at the tech schools approved by the Board of Education, are part of workforce development.

There might be another attempt at solving the dilemma of public access to floodwaters over private land. One proposal could be a county option added to the plan that ran into opposition from Day County-area landowners this year.

The Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee will look at the Future Fund, which has no public oversight. The governor has exclusive control over its $10 million-plus annual revenue.

GOAC also has the law enforcement officer training fund as a priority. The programs rely on penalties paid for breaking laws. Revenue is falling and no longer keeps up with costs.

Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson and state Attorney General Marty Jackley spoke to GOAC in early January.

There's also a juvenile sexual abuse task force and an autism workgroup for legislators.

The coming months will not be quiet or dull, especially not in an election year.

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