HURON — A week of diffi-cult decisions by Huron legislators culminated back home with the largest audience so far this session to attend one of the District 22 forums. Many listening to the briefing for constituents Saturday morning were high school government students.
In the House Judiciary and State Affairs committees, Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, and her colleagues heard often-emotional testimony on gun issues, sex trafficking, gender selection abortion and repeal of the death penalty.
“As you can imagine, it was a very tough week, a very stressful week,” she told the packed crowd at City Hall.
Local legislators have frequently used their opening remarks at the event, hosted by the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Huron Chamber & Visitors Bureau, to thank Huron and area residents for turning out in such large numbers, saying in some locales the legislators outnumber constituents at the coffee sessions.
As lawmakers prepare to enter their seventh week in Pierre, they have been working through what will total about 448 bills this winter. They will be able to provide an even clearer picture on many of them at the final legislative forum on March 8.
In the Senate, bills pertaining to meandering water, shared parenting and texting while driving were considered last week, said Sen. Jim White, R-Huron.
At Saturday’s forum, hosted by the Huron Chamber & Visitors Bureau, legislators were drawn into a discussion about immigration when a questioner asked about the proposal that would have state funds pay for prenatal care for pregnant immigrants who are in South Dakota illegally.
It’s a humanitarian issue because it will save lives, but it also means the state will save $5 to $6 million a year when pregnant women can avoid delivery complications and possible expensive neonatal hospital care, Gibson said.
When the women can get prenatal care, many complications can be prevented, cutting down the delivery expense and getting the babies off to a good start in life, White said.
Also, while the parents may be illegal immigrants, their babies born here become U.S. citizens.
It is expected to only involve a small number of people, Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron, said. He, however, voted against the measure – which passed the House – saying he didn’t feel comfortable with it.
In any case, until the federal government finally addresses comprehensive immigration policy the states will have to continue dealing with it, the legislators said.
White said while he hasn’t yet seen the bill, it makes common sense to him. In a visit to the Capitol last week, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told legislators he hopes Congress will one day pass immigration reform. That day is likely at least a year away.
“It is an issue across the United States,” White said. “It affects every community, it affects every state.”
Locally, people coming from refugee camps to work in jobs at Dakota Provisions and LSI are here legally, the legislators said.
Gibson said the Midwest has had a declining population for years, and without the new Americans, as White calls them, she said there would not be enough workers for those plants. She said the question to be asked is if the Huron area is better off with or without those two plants, and it’s her belief that it’s better off.
She said there have been problems, but emphasized that the people are coming from refugee camps as legal citizens.
“Instead of being discriminatory, I think we should be welcoming and accommodating,” Gibson said.
Many do not speak English, but the English as a Second Language program received a boost a year ago when legislators approved state funding. It means $2.9 million for programs across the state; Huron received $585,000.
“We are getting a substantial amount of money back,” Gibson said.
Refugees are filtering into other communities, and Werner said those towns are looking to Huron as a model. Certain areas of the economy can’t grow without doing what Huron has done, he said.
White credits work by the city and county commissions and the school board in the Legislature’s passage of the ESL funding bill a year ago.
Meanwhile, in a bill that impacts Huron and other cities that have hosted statewide tournaments, the Legislature is approving new ground rules for the South Dakota High School Activities Association.
The activities association is a continuation of the 135 schools it represents, White said. The association argued for an exemption, but legislators counter that it should have to follow the same rules and regulations as other public bodies.
It’s an open government issue, Gibson added. The group should be more accountable to the public and have the open meeting law apply.
“It just looks like it’s going under more scrutiny and supervision,” she said.
While Huron does not want to see all statewide events hosted by Sioux Falls and Rapid City, other communities are concerned about that, too, Werner said.
White emphasized that it’s not the Legislature’s intent to take control of the activities association.
Schools have to realize they have the power to take the lead on where the tournaments are held, and not leave that up to the executive director, he said.
“They are the owners of it,” he said.
Texting while driving took the forefront last week as well, and it’s looking like differences in the House and Senate bills will be settled in a conference committee.
Questions to be resolved include whether it should be a primary or secondary offense, and if cities which have adopted their own ordinances will be allowed to enforce it as a primary offense.
Werner is confident a texting bill will be passed this year, while White believes the issue will end up in court.
Werner said 41 other states have a texting law, and all but four of them make it a primary offense.For the complete article see the 02-23-2014 issue.
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