SD House approves teaching package by single voteOpponents consider petition drive to force vote
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — Gov. Dennis Daugaard shook hands and enthusiastically thanked lawmakers who supported him Wednesday evening, after a majority of members from the House of Representatives approved, without a vote to spare, the package of reforms and bonuses he sought for South Dakota teachers.
But the 36-33 victory might be months from final. Opponents of the legislation are considering a petition drive to force the legislation to a statewide vote on the November election ballot.
“My board will make the decision on March 6,” Bryce Healy, South Dakota Education Association executive director, said minutes after the House concluded its 70-minute debate. SDEA is the statewide labor organization for teachers and other educators.
The Republican governor received a taste of the animosity felt by those who voted against the bill when Rep. Elaine Elliott, D-Aberdeen, approached him during the well-wishing outside the House chamber.
“This isn’t going to be pretty,” her husband, Burt, was overheard to remark, as she began to tell Daugaard and those around him what she thought of the bill.
Elliot, a retired teacher, left no doubt about her defiance when she spoke during the debate about how she wasn’t going to have “my arm twisted by the man on the second floor,” a reference to pressure from the governor’s office on lawmakers.
“I don’t care if he comes and talks to me about it,” she said.
Rep. Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, led the argument in favor of the bill. The chairman of the House committee on education, he acknowledged afterward he didn’t know what the final count would be and which side would have a majority.
“Every last sentence was a plea for another vote,” Brunner said, as he walked down the House lobby hallway on his way out of the Capitol.
Among those he passed were education lobbyists and legislators opposed to the bill, who were huddled over vote-tally sheets checking over which side representatives wound up taking.
House members went into closed-door caucuses three times throughout the day before finally taking up the measure, House Bill 1234, at 4:01 p.m.
No one seemed sure what the result would be.
The legislation changed forms significantly three different times during its initial trip through the House and the Senate. It came back to the House for a decision that could have gone any of three ways: Accept the Senate version, kill it altogether or send it to a House-Senate conference committee for further negotiation.
Late-afternoon sun beamed through the south windows of the House chamber as the closing shots were delivered against and for the bill by House Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff of Yankton and House Republican leader David Lust of Rapid City.
Hunhoff said the legislation marks a further state takeover of local education.
“The public is just fed up with it,” he said, adding that people see the package as an attack on education.
“Once a bill gets that perception, how can you support it?”
Lust said the legislation was amended time after time as objections were raised.
He acknowledged that “messaging” of the bill’s contents and its purposes didn’t go well because e-mails kept coming against it.
“Bottom line, it’s $15 million for teachers. Not administrators, not anyone else, for teachers,” he said.
“It comes down to inertia vs. movement, status quo vs. change.”
That the legislation has a long way to go in its implementation was reflected by some of its contents. There are six advisory panels totaling 93 people, including an overall council of 26 members.
One of the changes made by the Senate was stripping any references to funding. That meant the bill could pass on a simple majority rather than the two-thirds support necessary for legislation that contains specific spending. Otherwise the bill would have died in the Senate, where the vote vote Tuesday was 22-12.
“This bill creates opportunity,” Brunner said in his final remarks closing the House debate. “It does not take it away.”