Senate panel agrees to more buffer strips and to expanded GF&P "farmer" definition
PIERRE — More agricultural properties could be eligible for buffer strip tax breaks, and more farmers could be eligible for seats on the important South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Commission, under changes a panel of the Legislature recommended Tuesday.
The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 9-0 for each proposal and placed them on the Senate consent schedule for action Wednesday afternoon.
Lawmakers can only ask questions about measures on the consent calendar. If a debate is sought, any member of the chamber can make the request. Then the bill is moved to the debate schedule for the following day.
Neither measure had opposition Tuesday. Senate agreement would be final legislative approval and the bills would head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for final review.
Rep. Herman Otten, R-Lennox, is prime sponsor for the buffer strip legislation. Lead Senate sponsor for the bill, HB 1119, is Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot.
It would allow a board of county commissioners, by resolution, to tell the director of equalization to reduce property taxes for any agricultural land within 120 feet of a tributary to any lake, river or stream already designated in the state buffer strip plan.
The goal is to reduce the amount of factory chemicals and natural nutrients that run off and pollute the water. The riparian buffer strip shall be assessed at 60 percent of its agricultural income value.
"It's a neat program," Frerichs said.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard started the riparian buffer program last year after he received the Legislature's approval. Daugaard used his veto in 2016 to stop a bill Sen. Jim Peterson, D-Revillo, passed.
Angela Ehlers, who oversees the South Dakota Conservation Districts organization, showed maps reflecting waters that are in or out of the state program. Since the county process requires a resolution, the decision may be referred to a public vote, she said.
Jay Gilbertson, manager of East Dakota water development district, said opening the state list seemed to be "a really bad idea" and said the proposal would be an effective alternate. "If the interest is there, they (commissioners) can do that," he said.
The program received 42 applications last year, according to Gilbertson, and 27 were accepted, measuring about 300 acres.
"Not a great start, but for a new program, understandable," he said.
Other supporters included the state Department of Agriculture, the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems and the Izaak Walton League of America.
"This is the next logical step in where we need to be," Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, said.
Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, said he liked the bill because county commissions could decide what's right in their areas.
"I believe it's good legislation," Cammack said.
On qualifications for the Game, Fish & Parks Commission, state law says four of the eight members must be farmers or ranchers who reside on their operations and receive at least two-thirds of their income from crops or livestock.
Rep. Kent Peterson, R-Salem, wants to expand the definition so farmers who live off-farm could qualify too. He described HB 1148 as "a common-sense update." Peterson's goal is to increase the pool of eligible farmers.
"I think it's a reasonable approach," he said.
Grace Beck, who manages the governor's appointments to state boards and commissions, told senators it was "good policy."
Lobbyists for South Dakota Farmers Union and South Dakota Farm Bureau spoke in favor. The bill seemed "worthwhile" to Frerichs.
Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, said there was a prediction years ago, as part of another study, that rural South Dakota would have more farmers and ranchers living away from the properties where they work.
"We're seeing this play out," Soholt said.