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Starting another session: Two returning legislators prepare priorities for Pierre

After a short break from the political arena, two local legislators will return to Pierre with different priorities in mind. Lance Carson, a Mitchell Republican, will make his way back to the state House of Representatives following a two-year ab...

Legislators gather prior to the State of the State Address in Pierre, which kicked off the 2016 legislative session. Legislators will find themselves in Pierre again on Tuesday for Gov. Dennis Daugaard's 2017 State of the State Address. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Legislators gather prior to the State of the State Address in Pierre, which kicked off the 2016 legislative session. Legislators will find themselves in Pierre again on Tuesday for Gov. Dennis Daugaard's 2017 State of the State Address. (Matt Gade / Republic)

After a short break from the political arena, two local legislators will return to Pierre with different priorities in mind.

Lance Carson, a Mitchell Republican, will make his way back to the state House of Representatives following a two-year absence with the hope of addressing what he sees as an ever-growing methamphetamine epidemic in South Dakota.

"I don't think it's gotten the attention it deserves," Carson said on Sunday, just two days prior to the start of the 2017 legislative session. "I think that it needs to be brought out, and really let the public know that we have a meth problem."

Carson, who represents Aurora, Davison and Jerauld counties, said South Dakotans can simply pick up a newspaper and look at the court reports to notice how prevalent the meth addiction issue is in their state.

Although he ran unopposed for election as one of District 20's two representatives, Carson routinely spoke of the need to work toward solving the state's meth concerns throughout the campaign season.

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"I'd really like to see the state develop a treatment center, and that's one of the things I'm going to be trying to get pushed into position," Carson said.

One bill to address South Dakota's meth concerns was proposed on Friday, a piece of legislation that would appropriate $603,740 for the state Department of Social Services for the expansion of meth treatment services within the state and to declare an emergency.

Carson hadn't seen Senate Bill 43 as of Sunday afternoon, but he said additional funding would be a step toward eradicating meth addiction. Despite the introduction of SB 43, Carson said he would like to see a more permanent solution developed.

"That's putting a Bandaid on and maybe getting the bleeding stopped, but we need to develop a comprehensive meth treatment plan," Carson said.

Upon his return to Pierre, Carson also suspects the formula used to increase education funding and teacher pay will steal the spotlight for the second consecutive session.

In 2016, the Legislature overhauled the education funding formula to help raise the average teacher salary closer to a target of $48,500. But, he said, many smaller school districts did not see the increase in funding they initially expected.

"I don't think you ever pass a perfect bill. I think you'll see bills that need to be worked on as you go down through time," Carson said.

Fellow returning legislator, Fulton Republican Stace Nelson, said he hasn't heard any rumblings regarding a repeal of the half percent sales tax increase used to support teacher pay. But the recently elected state senator said using a sales tax to fund the teacher pay increase highlights deficiencies within the state's executive branch.

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"For them to claim that there's not enough money in our budget for our critical infrastructure needs like education and roads is just plain dishonest," Nelson said.

And serving as a check on the administration of Gov. Dennis Daugaard is high on the priority list for Nelson, who represents five counties in south central South Dakota.

Following the GEAR UP and EB-5 scandals - programs which have resulted in missing money and criminal charges being filed in South Dakota - Nelson hopes he and a new guard of "good conservatives" will find ways to keep the executive branch in check.

"I think the voters sent a distinct message in the last election, and one of the distinct messages that they sent is they're very upset about the corruption that we've seen in the state of South Dakota with the executive branch," Nelson said.

Nelson and Carson will have 38 legislative working days to accomplish their priorities, with the session beginning on Jan. 10 and ending on March 27.

Bill proposals flow in

As of Sunday, 46 Senate bills and 33 House bills had been filed. The following are some of the interesting proposals already filed:

• House Bill 1004: A bill to establish a program to assist nursing and assisted living facilities recruit health care personnel. The program would allow a registered nurse or practical nurse to receive an incentive payment not to exceed $10,000; A nurse aide could receive an incentive payment not to exceed $5,000; A medication aide could receive an incentive payment not to exceed $2,500. Eligibility would be determined by the state Department of Health.

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• House Bill 1027: A bill to allow two-wheeled off-road vehicles with a combustion engine and a piston or rotor displacement of 120-cubic-centimeters or more to be used on a public highway.

• Senate Bill 22: A bill exempting unmanned aircraft systems weighing fewer than 55 pounds from the requirement of registering as an aircraft.

• Senate Bill 24: A bill to classify vehicular homicide as a violent crime.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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