Watershed task force allowed to stay independentPanel kills bill that would have put executive board in charge and forced groups to pay half of costs for work.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — Silence said it all Monday. Without any discussion, a panel of state senators dismissed an attempt to put the Legislature’s Executive Board in direct charge of South Dakota’s watershed task force and to make participating groups pay half of the costs to continue its work.
The House of Representatives previously had approved those changes 63-6. The lawmaker behind them was House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, who is the task force’s chairman. He has been frustrated by the pace of the work and the limited participation by agricultural groups.
A previous version of the Gosch legislation sought to disband the task force altogether. That was changed on the House floor to keep the task force but give it more direction and encourage more involvement by seeking the contributions from the various organizations with an interest in it.
Gosch didn’t attend the hearing Monday by the Senate State Affairs Committee. He was next door serving as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Instead another member of the task force, Senate Democratic leader Jason Frerichs, of Wilmot, did the talking. He said Gosch’s intent was to save some money for state government.
Frerichs said less than $10,000 was spent last year for two meetings. “It’s nothing too expensive,” he said. Frerichs said it’s important that the task force’s work be seen as unbiased.
Frerichs said the first meeting this year might not be possible until June. He said there is “much interest” in the topic and the task force needs “strong credibility” as it moves forward. Frerichs said the legislation isn’t needed but is a sign that more participation is needed. A new membership will be appointed later this month under the current law. The task force was created by the Legislature in 2012 with a three-year timeline for its operation.
After his remarks, Frerichs left the witness chair and returned to his committee seat.
No other supporters or opponents came forward regarding the Gosch legislation. Frerichs then made the motion to kill the bill. Seconding his motion was Senate Republican leader Russ Olson, of Wentworth.
No one on the committee said another word, other than to vote unanimously to defeat the bill.