Medicaid, education concerns aired
A crowd of nearly 50 area residents met with District 23 Senator Corey Brown and Representative Justin Cronin Saturday, Feb. 22, at a cracker barrel session at the Pizza Ranch in Mobridge.
Brown opened the session telling the group that funding drives policy and that money decides what policies move forward through each legislative session.
He explained that in the next few weeks of the session, the work shifts from policy bills to those that deal with budget. With a balanced budget required before the session breaks until next year, the work cannot be done until those bills are decided.
Brown explained South Dakota is in a very good position. It was recently named the best-run state in the nation and one of the top states in which to do business. He said the state is one of 15 that now have more jobs than before the recent recession.
Brown explained that at the beginning of the year, the state was looking at a $30 million shortage to balance the budget, but by working with Gov. Dennis Daugaard, the Legislature has been able to tap into the unclaimed property account. With the extra funds the Legislature was able to fund economic legislation and balance the budget.
Cronin opened by talking about legislation on the house side of aisle, much of which is more geared toward policy.
He said Medicaid expansion is a hot topic in Pierre. Gov. Daugaard has petitioned the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sibelius to allow a waiver for the state to manage Medicaid here.
“We want to be able to help the ones who need it the most, but keep control in South Dakota hands,” he told the group.
He said the legislature has spent hours discussing the issue and have brought a number of solutions into that discussion. He said significant changes would have to be made to the national program before the Legislature can do anything with it.
Funding education was also a hot topic Cronin told the group.
“We can’t fix everything at once but we are getting there,” he said. “This is the best discussion I believe we have had with education groups concerning funding.”
The legislators then took questions from the audience, which covered a wide variety of subjects from economic development on Standing Rock, to who has the right to use flooded lands.
Dr. Leonard Linde asked the legislators if any of the funding the governor has found for bringing business to South Dakota could be used to bring those businesses to Standing Rock and other reservations.
Cronin explained because of the sovereignty issues, state rules and regulations are hard to enforce on the reservations. The legislature has discussed creating a task force to research what it will take to bring business to the reservations. He said the first step is to adopt the Universal Commercial Code (UCC) in order for outside businesses to be able to be involved with reservation projects. He said a stable and consistent business environment is needed in order for owners to feel comfortable bringing businesses to the reservations.
Brown told the group this would be a long-term effort that will take cooperation between all parties.
“This governor, unlike some previous, is pretty cognizant about what happens in rural communities,” he said.
Mobridge Regional Hospital and Clinics CEO Angie Svihovec thanked the legislators for going above and beyond their duties as legislators to make sure that South Dakota does the right thing for all communities. She voiced her concern that this legislature will miss out on a chance to expand Medicaid, which is important to rural communities and brings more money into smaller communities.
Brown said that although the federal government wanted to fund Medicaid at a 90 percent to 10 percent (state responsibility) for a few years, he said after that it is unknown how much funding would be available. He said once a program is instituted, it is extremely difficult to discontinue and the danger that the state would be left with a financial burden it could not sustain is one of the reasons the governor had filed for a waiver.
Cronin said the state needs to wait on the ruling on the waiver.
“I think we can write a program that fits South Dakota,” he said. “If the true intention is to help people help themselves then they should let us do what is best for the state.”
The legislators answered other questions concerning the excise tax, water rights, party affiliation in county elections and legislation passed that holds the South Dakota High School Activities Association to the same open meeting regulations as with other public committees and boards.
Brown sponsored that legislation because of recent moves by the SDHSAA concerning using an increase in ticket prices to fund an organization foundation.
“In essence that is a tax paid by those who attend the event,” he said. “I set out to correct that.”
Brown’s bill has passed the Senate and passed n to the House.
They also discussed bills that concerned local control such as those dealing with banned dog breeds, requiring all students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each school day and a texting while driving ban.
Brown explained that there is a unique situation with the texting ban as any “rules of the road” need to be uniform across the state. He said there has been cases where county and municipal laws have been different than the state laws, but because these violations are mostly misdemeanors, few want to spend the time or money to fight fines.
Cronin said in 1929, a state law was passed and is on the books that states no community can have laws that have stricter penalties than those of the state.
Mobridge-Pollock School District Superintendent Tim Frederick asked about the use of Capital Outlay for needs other than building projects, purchasing land and equipment and curriculum needs.
Brown explained the property tax revolt of the 1990s forced the education formula that is still in use. A lot of things have changed since then, he continued and the formula needs changing too. He said he believes the legislature will get together with education groups and do the right thing for education funding in South Dakota.
“It is tough to look at individual pieces of legislation and not overhaul the whole formula,” he said.
Both he and Cronin said the legislature has been looking at other funding options and is talking about changes that will need to be made.
Brown said funding stability is needed in order for school districts to budget for the more than one year at a time.
Cronin told the group he would support the term limit bill sponsored by District 23 Rep. Charlie Hoffman, who has announced he will not run again. Senate and house members can serve no more than four consecutive two-year terms in a chamber, for a total of eight years. But a lawmaker can run for another chamber after being term-limited in one.
The bill will expand the current term-limit for both senators and representatives by one term.
“It takes some legislators at least two years before they understand how the process works,” Cronin told the group. “It doesn’t make sense to push them out when they are becoming good legislators and statesmen.”
Brown said one of the consequences of term limits is that the governor and the lobbyist gain strength because they have been in Pierre longer and have an advantage over inexperienced lawmakers.
If the legislation passes, it will go to a vote of the people in November because it changes the State Constitution.
The Mobridge Tribune, the Prairie Pioneer, Dakota Radio Group and the Pizza Ranch sponsored the cracker barrel. Cronin and Brown represent residents in Campbell, Edmunds, Faulk, Hand, McPherson, Potter, Spink and Walworth counties.
- Katie Zerr -