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OPINION: School funding, health care remain top priority in Legislature

Greetings to my fellow tribal members and especially to District 26 constituents. The second week of the 91st legislative session has come to a close. We are starting to hear bills in the committees on which I serve. These include Senate Health a...

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Greetings to my fellow tribal members and especially to District 26 constituents.

The second week of the 91st legislative session has come to a close. We are starting to hear bills in the committees on which I serve. These include Senate Health and Human Services, Judiciary and Local Government.

Over the weekend when I returned home from our first week in the Capitol, I had a chance to talk to school administrators and educators in our area. We have a lot to digest as we review the governor's plan on school funding and Medicaid expansion. I have been immersed in these issues in each of the past three sessions, and sincerely hope this will be the year of action. There are 30 more "Session Days" to make this happen. As assistant minority leader in the Senate, I look forward to the challenge.

The issue of school funding is weighing heavily on the minds of school administrators, school boards, teachers, support staff, parents, taxpayers and legislators. What is the right number? Where should we rank? How do we pay for it? I've heard all of these questions from constituents. Perhaps the most important question: Can we get something passed? I wish I had an easy answer for you, but I don't. I do know that the opportunity we have right now to fix this decades-old problem is right in front of us, and we need to come together to find the right answer.

I've asked the school officials in our district to provide me the hard numbers of what the governor's plan would mean for them. If the governor's plan does not meet the muster for our districts, then we need to change it so it does. I'm very glad we are working on school funding and I want us to do it right, because I highly doubt we get another bite at the apple anytime soon.

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Recently, a small group of legislative leaders were invited to the governor's mansion for an important meeting with a group of federal stakeholders working on Medicaid expansion. These individuals included representatives from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid, Health & Human Services and Indian Health Services.

These federal officials joined South Dakota health care experts and toured several health care facilities in many of our communities, including Sioux Falls, Yankton and the Standing Rock Reservation. I think our guests were very impressed with our plan and how well the various interested parties are working together to accomplish our goal. They were also able to see some of the challenges our citizens face in accessing health care. The rural nature and long distances to facilities were an eye-opening experience for some of them, and I think it really helped create a vision for what Medicaid expansion looks like in South Dakota.

We continue to develop a plan that will be a win-win-win for our uninsured citizens, taxpayers and tribal members in our state. I am extremely confident that we can reach this lofty goal that has the potential to change lives for so many people. When you have the opportunity to insure 50,000 people and fundamentally change access and quality of care for over 80,000 IHS patients with one vote we cannot let politics cloud this important issue.

The Democratic caucus is hopeful Medicaid expansion will accomplish the following:

• Infuse nearly $400 million into the state's economy, creating thousands of jobs and improving the viability of community health providers.

• Improve the quality of the state's workforce (73 percent of the uninsured are employed but cannot afford health insurance).

• Assist struggling county governments by reducing indigent care and prisoner health care costs.

• Bolster health care for Native Americans because of chronic funding problems with Indian Health Service.

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• Strengthen the treaty obligation of the federal government to provide health care to Native Americans.

• Save tax dollars by making better use of technology, preventive care and new models of care such as "health homes."

• Improve the lives of up to 50,000 South Dakotans so they can succeed in school and in the workplace.

The communities of Chamberlain and Kimball will host cracker barrels Feb 6. with the times and locations to be determined. White River will host a cracker barrel at 6 p.m. on Feb. 11 at the museum and Murdo will host one at 1:30 p.m. on Feb 15 at the senior center. Please join us at any of these locations. I work for you and would appreciate any input.

You can always contact me with your questions and concerns. Please let me hear from you. You may reach me by phone at (605) 319-6570 or email at Sen.Heinert@state.sd.us .

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