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Legislature beginning to tackle tougher topics including ESL issue

Posted: Monday, Feb 11th, 2013

HURON — Halfway through the legislative session, South Dakota lawmakers are dealing with some of the meatier issues while making tough decisions on spending requests.

Of special interest in Huron and other communities with growing diversity in their schools is the English as a Second Language legislation all three of District 22’s lawmakers are pushing.

“Our ESL bill stands high on what people think we need for our state,” Sen. Jim White, R-Huron, said at Saturday’s legislative forum.

The bill, which breezed through the Senate Education Committee on a 7-0 vote, next heads to the floor.

It would appropriate more funding to specifically ease the local burden on local school districts.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, who originally tried to get the bill through the Legislature a year ago, said in response to constituent concerns that it should be clarified that the program involves teachers teaching English to those who don’t understand the English language.

It is not about teaching a foreign language to those who speak English, she said.

“We’re teaching English to those who don’t know the English language,” Gibson said.

Asked about state revenue numbers, Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron, who serves on the Appropriations Committee as does White, said they expect to receive the latest update by the end of the month or early March.

But he said there’s a difference of one-tenth of 1 percent between projections and what is coming in to state coffers at this point.

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., was in Pierre late in the week to address legislators, and she shared the concerns about the fiscal cliff.

Programs that could be impacted in South Dakota are among the ones that the state can’t do without, White said.

Legislators will have a budget by the end of the session, but he reiterated it’s possible they may have to return later depending on the outcome of the fiscal cliff in Washington, D.C.

“It’s going to boil down to the budget situation and our priorities,” Gibson said.

Good stewardship of money doesn’t mean stashing it away when the state has needs involving children, infrastructure and others, she said.

She said she considers herself to be a good steward of her personal finances, but also spends money on the necessities in life.

Expansion of Medicaid to include another 48,000 South Dakotans is part of the Affordable Care Act.

White said he agrees with Gov. Dennis Daugaard that the state should take a wait-and-see attitude on how it plays out over the next year. It will have far-reaching effects and decisions should be made on facts, he said.

The Supreme Court found the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional, but left it up to individual states to decide if they will participate in Medicaid expansion, Gibson said.

Some states are choosing not to, others are participating and still others are undecided.

Medicaid expansion would inject $350 million into the South Dakota economy and help working people who are poor. They would no longer be going to emergency rooms, but to primary care providers.

“All the seminars I’ve been to show it’s a win-win-win for the state of South Dakota,” Gibson said.

During the week, Daugaard signed the criminal justice bills aimed at stabilizing dramatic increases in the number of prison inmates housed in the state.

Gibson said three controversial bills she has introduced involving fur trapping will come up this week.

Legislators were also asked for their thoughts on addressing gun violence in schools.

The criminal justice package signed by the governor has a provision about reporting mental health issues.

President Obama is urging the federal government to take the lead and is likely to talk about it during his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

White said he thinks there should be more preventive measures rather than reacting after the fact.

“I hope we can continue to move in that direction,” he said.

The fourth and final legislative coffee is Saturday, Feb. 23. There will be no legislative forum on Saturday, Feb. 16.

Between now and then, the budget picture may be more clearly defined, although that is typically the last legislation that is passed before the session is recessed until lawmakers return to deal with any vetoes.

“We have a pot of money, but I can guarantee we have a semi-load of requests coming in,” Werner said.

For the complete article see the 02-10-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-10-2013 paper.

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