Mitchell Rep. Ben Krohmer's fuel gas bill passes Senate committee, appears likely to become law
“This has been a useful experience as far as trying to figure out how to make it work through the system," the freshman lawmaker said about the bill, which has taken a winding process toward passage.
PIERRE, S.D. — The first legislative session for Mitchell’s newest representative is coming to a close.
And, on March 2, Rep. Ben Krohmer had the distinction of presenting the final bill on the Senate Commerce and Energy committee’s session docket, where the body voted 9-0 to move forward on Krohmer’s proposed ban on local ordinances attempting to prohibit the “use, production, manufacture, or transport of fuel gas or fuel gas appliances.”
The amended version of House Bill 1239 will head to the Senate floor early next week; since it changed in Senate committee, the House of Representatives would have to concur with the modifications to get it onto Gov. Kristi Noem’s desk.
Introduced on Feb. 1, the bill was in part a response to a federal regulatory agency that reportedly considered a ban on the cooking method, stemming from new research purporting to connect gas stoves with higher incidences of childhood asthma.
“People should be able to choose whatever utility or form of heat and cooking they want to use, whatever makes sense to them and works best for them,” Krohmer said at the time of the bill’s introduction.
Despite the idea of protecting South Dakotans from regulation into cooking and heating garnering overwhelming support so far — the bill passed the House of Representatives 64-6, for example — it’s been a lengthy, winding process for the freshman lawmaker’s proposal.
Following the proposal through the process has been a learning experience, Krohmer said.
“I carried an agency bill, too, but that was kind of just going through the motions,” he said, referencing a bill he helped pass to slightly change the structure of the Statewide One-Call Notification Board. “This has been a useful experience as far as trying to figure out how to make it work through the system, working with someone who has issues with it so it's palatable to them. Just keep it moving forward and make sure as many people as possible are happy.”
While it’s not uncommon to see bills morph as they move through the process, Krohmer’s ban on gas stove bans was an extreme example.
First, an amendment in the House Commerce and Energy committee last month struck a clause that included potential federal laws in the regulation prohibition, a clear violation of federalism.
More recently, Krohmer advanced an amendment in the Senate Commerce and Energy committee striking the proposal’s attempt to limit future gubernatorial executive orders and state laws, both outside the purview of lawmakers.
The amendment also made an exception allowing municipalities to write zoning laws related to the placement of utility services and the like, an important part of getting municipalities on board.
“Municipalities were a little bit concerned that they might not have been able to have any zoning authority. An extreme example, but their concern was somebody might want to put up a power plant in the middle of a residential neighborhood and they couldn't say, No, you can't do that,’” Krohmer explained. “So they can put it in an industrial district as long as they're not using their zoning, and building codes to try and undermine the bill.”
Furthermore, throughout session there has been a similar bill from the other side of the South Dakota State Capitol, Senate Bill 174, which ultimately sported very similar text to Krohmer’s, though he pointed out that his bill also specifically applies to bans on fuel gas appliances.
“[Krohmer’s] focuses more on inside the house, ours is more about a service-wide view, it’s just different sections of code,” Rep. Becky Drury, of Rapid City, explained. “They’re compatible, and probably should have been brought together.”
In waiting for that bill — sponsored by Sen. Herman Otten, of Tea, and Drury — to make its way through the legislative process, Krohmer’s proposal spent the last week “on the table” in the Senate Commerce and Energy committee.
The reason for that is, in many cases where a similar bill emerges from each chamber, only one ends up passing, meaning senators on the energy committee were waiting to see what their counterparts in the House would do with the proposal.
In a short presentation regarding his bill on March 2, Krohmer indicated that the Legislative Research Council was confident that the two proposals served slightly different roles and would not interfere with one another.
Either way, it appears likely that the South Dakota Legislature will pass at least one, if not two, limits on how localities can regulate fuel gas-based cooking and heating methods in South Dakota.
"It's an issue that's been talked about a lot, so I'm glad it's gaining steam and should be on its way into law," Krohmer said.
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.