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House panel recommends fees for electric and hybrid vehicles

South Dakota's Capitol as pictured in this file photo. (Daily Republic file photo)

PIERRE — Arguing that electric motor and electric-hybrid vehicles wear out streets and roads too, a panel of state lawmakers decided Thursday that new fees should be paid for those vehicles, too.

The House Transportation Committee voted 8-3 for legislation offered by its chairwoman, Rep. Mary Duvall, R-Pierre.

She wants state government to charge $100 apiece for electrics and $50 each for hybrids.

The premise is owners of electric and hybrid vehicles should pay amounts somewhat comparable to the motor-fuel taxes paid by drivers of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Revenue from motor-fuel taxes in South Dakota goes into a special state account used for street and highway projects.

The hybrid fee would be half the electric fee because a hybrid uses a blend of electricity and either gas, diesel or some other hydrocarbon-based fuel.

The House of Representatives could consider HB 1241 as early as Tuesday afternoon. If House members pass it, the legislation would go to the Senate for further action.

"It's brought as a measure of fairness," Duvall said.

State Transportation Secretary Darin Bergquist testified as a supporter. He said all motor vehicles that travel South Dakota roads do some degree of damage. He said the fees would have produced about $276,000 if they had been in effect.

Seventeen states, including several that share borders with South Dakota, have fees on electrics and hybrids. While those vehicles are small in number now, their ranks will grow, Bergquist said.

Sen. John Wiik, who works at a truck-repair shop, said one manufacturer recently introduced a semi tractor that operates on electricity and can pull a semi trailer 600 miles.

"I think what we're doing here is we're going to start leveling the playing field," Wiik, R-Big Stone City, said. "We need to figure out what that's going to do to our roads."

The one opponent was Matt McCaulley, a Sioux Falls lawyer representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He argued a variety of reasons why "the problematic public policy represented by this bill" wouldn't work.

McCaulley, a former legislator, said South Dakota reported about 850,000 cars registered in 2015. There were 13 to 17 all-electric and 4,366 hybrids.

"Is the juice worth the squeeze?" McCaulley asked.

Duvall in rebuttal said those comments were "an argument of distraction." She said fees range from $50 to $300 in other states.

"I know this is not going to be the fix-all but this is our foot in the door," Rep. Michael Clark, R-Hartford, said. "This is a step. It's not the final answer."

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