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Local legislators work in Pierre for State Fairground improvements

Posted: Monday, Feb 25th, 2013

HURON – Legislators showed their support of the State Fair by passing two measures this session that will improve the fairgrounds.

Getting lawmakers – some of whom had never been to the fair – more involved through programs such as livestock showing competitions could be one reason for a new appreciation for the exhibition.

Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron, said two State Fair bills he pitched have met with success.

One authorizes, but does not appropriate, a $4 million expenditure to build a 4-H complex to replace Clover Hall. Funding will come from private sources as it has with recent building projects on university campuses.

The other bill approves $100,000 to build an inmate housing facility. It will be a larger governor’s house with an open floor plan.

As the seventh week of the 2013 session wrapped up, District 22 legislators answered audience questions at the final legislative forum on Saturday.

A ban on texting and driving made it through the Senate and will be heard in a House committee this week.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, a member of a summer study group that reviewed ways to reduce crashes among teen drivers, said four bills from the task force are being considered by legislators.

While the House has failed to pass a driving and texting ban in the past, she thinks it will get a lot of support this time. Cities like Huron and Sioux Falls have already passed their own bans, hoping the state will take action.

Sen. Jim White, R-Huron, said he likes the fact that teens have provided considerable input. The legislation is not coming from the top down, but from the bottom up, he said.

Werner said with changing times and new technology, it’s important to adapt and do what needs to be done to keep people safe.

Safety is also on the minds of legislators in terms of the state’s school children, and the school sentinel bill that would allow school boards to decide if school employees should have access to weapons is facing Senate consideration. It has passed the House and the Senate State Affairs Committee.

“We’ll probably be seeing that this week on the Senate side,” White said.

Werner and Gibson voted against the bill earlier in the session and White said there is opposition from school officials.

“There’s a feeling within the school system that they’re not comfortable with it,” he said.

Gibson said studies have shown that people with just a week’s worth of training would not be able to fire weapons at others, and that law enforcement officers, with all of their training, sometimes freeze when drawing a gun.

Studies also show it is more dangerous to have guns in schools than not to have them, she said.

School districts have the option of having a school resource officer in their buildings.

Gibson also questions how financially strapped districts will be able to pay the bill.

“The school districts can barely afford to educate the students now,” she said.

With the sequestration deadline looming in Washington, D.C., all eyes are on Congress to see what, if anything, will be done before Friday.

States will feel the repercussions and White has said he thinks legislators could be called back to Pierre for a special session to deal with the funding fallout.

Spending bills are being held until the final days of the Legislature when the funding picture will hopefully be clearer.

“It comes down to what the people of our state want,” White said. “I know we’re trying to do what we can with the funds that we have.”

A 3 percent increase in education funding is in the proposed budget.

Education makes up 45 percent of the total budget, followed by health care providers and economic development. Those three highest priorities need to be appropriately funded, Werner said.

The state is doing things wrong when 66 of the 151 school districts have had to opt out of the property tax freeze, Gibson said.

Instead of giving more money to schools, the government is rat-holing it, she said. Funds should not be directed to reserves, but to the state-aide formula so school districts can plan from year to year, she said.

The increase to education should be 4 percent so school districts can make up from the funding cuts of a few years ago, she said. Instead, they are at 2009 levels.

“What in your lives has not gone up in cost?” Gibson asked.

For the complete article see the 02-24-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-24-2013 paper.

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