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Texting, abortion, extra money on tap in Pierre

PIERRE -- The Legislature will look at a bill banning texting while driving and a possible change in calculating the waiting period for abortions. Here are a few items of interest heading into the session's sixth week.

Storm warning

The blizzard warnings looming over much of South Dakota prompted the Legislature to cancel today's session because it would be dangerous for lawmakers to drive back to Pierre on Sunday.

Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, who presides over the Senate, said the Legislature might make up for lost time by meeting on Friday, which is scheduled to be a day off.

Texting while driving

The Senate Transportation Committee is set to weigh a bill that would ban texting while driving -- a proposal that has been repeatedly rejected by the South Dakota Legislature.

Supporters hope lawmakers may look more favorably on the idea this year, now that some South Dakota cities have imposed their own bans on texting.

The measure would prohibit writing, sending or reading a text message while driving, but it would continue to allow drivers to make cellphone calls and use hands-free electronic devices.

The bill also would prevent cities from imposing any ordinance that varies from a statewide ban on texting. The measure's main sponsor, Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, said the law should be the same in every community.

Abortion waiting period

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to consider a change to a 2011 law that requires women seeking abortions to wait three days -- the nation's longest waiting period -- after first consulting with a doctor.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, would provide that Saturday, Sundays and holidays do not count in calculating the three-day wait.

The committee also will hear another bill by Hansen that deals with cases in which babies are born with a physical or mental disability. It says no one can sue a doctor for monetary damages on the basis that a woman would have had an abortion if she had known of the disability during her pregnancy.

Money up for grabs

South Dakota lawmakers continue to discuss how they might use $26.5 million that Gov. Dennis Daugaard left unallocated in his proposed budget.

In his budget speech in December, Daugaard said the $26.5 million is available for spending on one-time projects this year and next year, and he left it up to the Legislature to decide how to spend it.

Lawmakers so far have discussed using that extra money to set up scholarship programs or give extra state aid to schools for operating expenses. Daugaard said last week he will let lawmakers narrow the possible uses of the money before he consults with them late in the legislative session on how to spend it.

Insider insight: A 'hoghouse'

As a legislative session progresses, lawmakers frequently announce they are proposing a "hoghouse."

The term refers to an amendment that strips all the language out of a bill and replaces it with completely new language that in many cases would do something different than the original bill. The only requirement is that the amendment must be relevant to the original bill's subject.

The term is said to have originated years ago when a bill was completely changed to construct a hog building at South Dakota State University.