Gov. Daugaard optimistic in State of the State Address

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Gov. Dennis Daugaard brought a message of hope and commitment to the people of South Dakota in Tuesday’s State of the State address.

To kick off the 2017 Legislative Session, he reviewed several topics — including education reform and the ballot initiative process — in addition to good news regarding the state’s revenue shortfall.

Considering the November election that featured 10 ballot initiatives, Daugaard said the legislature should reexamine the ballot initiative process.

"The proliferation of complex measures crowding our ballots through the efforts of people who don’t live in South Dakota is a concern to many," Daugaard said.

The governor pointed to the irony in his speech Tuesday. South Dakota became the first state to create and use the initiative process to avoid conflicting, big-money interests consuming state government. Now, Daugaard said, those very interests have made their way onto the ballot.

State Rep. Sean McPherson (R- Rapid City) said the legislature must strike a delicate balance between encouraging the public to participate in the democracy, but also preventing another crowded ballot in the state election.

“People spoke, and you have to honor that. But we have to figure out a way to honor that while still making it constitutional, and still making it so we don’t end up next year with, you know, 25 measures that we’re trying to vote on," McPherson said.

State Sen. Jeff Partridge (R-Rapid City) told NewsCenter1 he will be proposing legislation during the session to toughen the process of getting a measure on the ballot. This, as Daugaard applauded state government for its efforts to be more transparent in publishing information like proposed bills, committee meeting minutes and more online in conjunction with his Better Government Initiative.

Since he amended his Fiscal Year 2016 budget in December, Daugaard said the state is still seeing a $5.8 million shortfall on anticipated revenue, which he tied to the July sales tax increase. But that deficit could soon change as online retailer Amazon has agreed to charge sales tax to online South Dakota consumers. Amazon will begin collecting that tax on February 1.

"The fact that South Dakota struck this deal is a good thing,” said State Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R- Rapid City). “The truth is, if Main Street has to charge sales tax, then they should have to on the internet as well."

That financial shot in the arm was applauded by legislators on both sides of the aisle. State Republicans were generally in favor with the optimism Daugaard showed throughout his address, but state Democrats said they believe there’s still work to be done.

"It seemed to be a lack of urgency and some type of complacency with where we’re at in our state,” said Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton (D- Burke). “And we do live in a great state, don’t get me wrong. We live in a tremendously excellent state, but we can improve. We can do better."

Democratic leaders criticized the governor on a lack of effort on making Initiated Measure 22 work, as opposed to blasting the law passed by voters to establish an ethics commission, allocate public funding for political campaigns and revise laws for campaign funding and lobbyists. They also called for more education funding across the state and voiced their disapproval of another so-called bathroom bill.

But the Democrats fear they can’t make those changes, given the numbers in the legislative roster. Democrats control just 10 of the 70 House seats, compared to 6 of the 35 Senate seats.

"We’re at the lowest numbers we’ve been at in several years out here, and we don’t have the ability to push the agenda forward if we wanted,” State Rep. Spence Hawley (D- Brookings). “But I think we still need to be the conscience of the legislature if we might be."

Daugaard touched on several other topics in the speech, including the need for more attention toward education reform, improved relations with the state’s tribes, infrastructure improvements that spurred agriculture business, as well as the need to tackle the state’s methamphetamine epidemic.

The governor said the state’s approach toward meth includes three facets: stopping meth from entering the state, educating people (especially youth) on the dangers of meth, and helping meth addicts with rehabilitation.

To do so, Daugaard joined Attorney General Marty Jackley in his recommendation for a statewide joint drug interdiction task force. He also said he will ask the legislature to update the wiretapping statute in the 2013 Public Safety Improvement Act to allow cell phones to help squash the meth epidemic.

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