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Key legislative committee approves veterans cemetery

PIERRE -- The Legislature's Joint Committee on Appropriations showed its power Monday. The panel authorized a second South Dakota cemetery specifically for armed forces veterans and their spouses.

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PIERRE - The Legislature's Joint Committee on Appropriations showed its power Monday. The panel authorized a second South Dakota cemetery specifically for armed forces veterans and their spouses.

Based on decades of tradition, it is highly unlikely either the Senate or the House of Representatives would object at this late stage of the 2018 session.

The victory for South Dakota veterans groups came after negotiations Monday morning. Sen. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls, is prime sponsor of SB 91 that formed a framework for the deal.

The cemetery in Minnehaha County would serve men and women from the region, including neighboring states.

South Dakota has the Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis that is part of the U.S. Veterans Administration health care complex at Fort Meade.

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Stalzer, a military veteran, said a new cemetery would receive $450,000 of general funds from the current state budget and $150,000 from the 2019 state budget that starts July 1.

The money would be spent for surveying and planning the site. The Sioux Falls city government plans to donate land for it.

The original bill said 56 acres. The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee that held the first hearing deleted the number and inserted "suitable."

Meanwhile the deal reached Monday says the state Department of Veterans Affairs would be authorized to pre-apply to the National Cemetery Administration. The site would be placed on the federal grants list for $6 million to construct the new cemetery.

The third piece of the deal Monday calls for a $3 million endowment fund to accumulate under management of the South Dakota Community Fund by July 1, 2023.

The endowment earnings would provide about $150,000 annually to cover personnel and equipment expenses beyond the annual revenues received for burials at the cemetery, according to Stalzer.

The endowment may be tapped before July 1, 2023, regardless of the amount in it. However, the endowment can't go below $3 million after it reaches that level.

The $3 million endowment is less than one-third of the $9.4 million endowment that Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, previously proposed.

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"It was a total backup plan in case things went wrong," Stalzer said Monday about Tidemann's approach.

That wasn't explained publicly during the appropriators' hearings Feb. 15 on the Tidemann proposal.

The original version of SB 91 from Stalzer and Tidemann didn't require a specific amount of endowment.

The vote Monday for the compromise version was 17-0 from the panel of senators and representatives. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.

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