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VEHLE: State highways and bridges OK; local areas are not

This is the end of week two in the South Dakota Legislature. Bills are starting to be heard in committees, and probably the most contentious bills to Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchelbe heard on the Senate floor so far were the three bills on Common Core introduced by Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea. I supported all three bills.

SB 64 was a bill to limit any new subject Common Core standards while retaining the current Common Core standards until July of 2016 and until public hearings had been held to give the public opportunity to provide input to the Board of Education on any new proposals. It passed 28-6.

The second bill was SB 63, and it protected student privacy in the collection and distribution of information. It passed 34-0.

The third bill would have created a group to make a comprehensive evaluation of the Common Core Standards. The group would have people from parents, teachers, administrators, etc. on the committee in order to give a varied type of input into the discussion. Because it required funding, it needed a 2/3 vote (24 votes) majority. It failed on an 18-16 vote. Senate Bills 64 and 63 move on to the House. There will probably be other Common Core bills during the session.

In judiciary, we dealt with some the attorney general’s bills. One was to provide for a better method of tracking the sales of overthe-counter products containing pseudoephedrine, ephedrine or phenylpropanolamin. An example would be Sudafed, which is often used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The cost of this electronic tracking will be borne by the drug companies, and there is no cost (other than the time to enter the information) for the drug store or the state. We are already tracking this information using paper forms, and this will be much quicker and much more effective. It had no opposition.

We had what I call a Paul Harvey day in the Senate Transportation Committee on Friday — “page two, the rest of the story!” In the first week of testimony, the secretary of transportation presented the current condition of our state roads (county, township and municipal roads are not included in state roads). He was quoted as saying the current condition of our state roads was probably as good as they’ve ever been. On Friday, the secretary was to present what the condition of our state roads will be, at the current rate of funding, in 10 years (2023). Today only 2 percent of our state roads are in poor condition; in 2023, 27 percent will be in poor condition. That means on average, about 1 of every 4 miles of state roads will need to be torn up and rebuilt at a cost today of about $1 million per two-lane mile.

Today, only 6 percent of our state roads are in fair condition; in 2023, 25 percent will be in fair condition. Today, 92 percent of our state roads are in either excellent or good condition, and in 2023 it will be nearly half that amount at 48 percent. When charting this information on a graph, from this year forward, the road surface conditions will begin their steady decline.

Part of the reason for this situation is that during the recession, the state received Highway Stimulus Funds of $183 million (that required no state match) for shovelready projects, and the Department of Transportation used it wisely and put our roads in great shape today. Most people agree, including me, that we probably will not receive that kind of stimulus funding anytime in the near future to bail us out again. The good news in the secretary’s testimony was that while our Bridge Health Index will also decline, it will still be above 90 on a 100-point scale by 2023, and should not present problems.

The other issue was testimony we had on Wednesday regarding the condition of our county and township roads and bridges. This is indeed a sad set of circumstances. Not only are their roads and bridges currently in difficult conditions, but the future is even worse, and they do not have the funding in place to rectify the situation. Agriculture is our No. 1 industry, and it needs good roads and bridges to get our goods to market.

These are all problems that the committee will be working with various stake holders to try and determine solutions that can get a consensus and that can be considered next year. Thank you to all those that attended the cracker barrel recently at Mitchell Technical Institute.

— Mike Vehle represents District 20 — Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties — in the South Dakota Senate.