Two very important issues dominate in District 20: Community support providers (such as LifeQuest) and school enrollment averaging.

Community support providers take care of people who have disabilities and almost 78 percent of the support comes from Medicaid. CSPs do the work for the state but are miserably underfunded. The average hourly pay is $11 and there is considerable training involved to be ready for the job.

The turnover is almost 48 percent per year, not good for the people served, nor is it favorable for running a business efficiently. The facilities that are run by the state pay their employees about $13.50 per hour. Those state-run institutions do not receive the generous support of the donors who support the local CSPs such as LifeQuest.

The issue for as long as I have been in the Legislature has been finding enough ongoing funding to get the CSPs on track and keeping them at a competitive wage. Sure, each year we have found money that helps a bit and covers some increasing insurance needs. We have not addressed the ongoing funding necessary.

If these facilities were to close and the state were to take over operations, it would cost the taxpayer considerably more than it does currently, and I'll bet it wouldn't be run as well, based on issues we see in the state-run facilities. The price tag amounts to about $5.8 million. That doesn't seem like much in a $4.5 billion dollar budget, but it is a chunk that cannot come from one-time money as we have often done in the past. This is a non-partisan issue important to both chambers. We must solve it this session.

Specific to rural South Dakota and our rural schools is an amendment that was brought at the last minute when the teacher-funding bill was being debated. The result of this amendment was the removal of the two-year enrollment averaging for schools. Twice during the debate I asked for clarification to be sure the averaging remained. After assurance that it would, the amendment was supported. Well, guess what? It wasn't retained and the results for greatly fluctuating enrollments has been rather catastrophic for small schools. A swing of 25 or more students makes it impossible to properly budget. Capital outlay funds can't be an ongoing source of balancing a budget. I will be introducing a bill to reinstate the two-year averaging. It will need a fiscal note to determine the impact to the budget but we'll fight the fight and hope we can garner support across the state.

There are a plethora of bills and issues to be discussed this session. Let's hope we can stick to the many issues, not the least of which is the meth invasion.

Stay warm and stay in touch!