District 24 Sen. Mary Duvall weekly update of the SD Legislative Session: IM 26


Initiated Measure 26/Medical Marijuana implementation by District 24 Senator Mary Duvall.

When the voters approved IM26 allowing for use of medical marijuana in South Dakota, the vote was overwhelming.  Now the legislature is wrestling with how to make sure South Dakota patients have access to safe and effective medical marijuana.  In visiting with other legislators, we want to make sure the measure is implemented in a prudent manner.

According to the Mayo Clinic, medical marijuana contains two active compounds that are of interest for medical purposes: THC the primary ingredient in marijuana that makes people “high,” and CBD (cannabidiol).  Under federal law, CBD derived from the hemp plant with less than 0.3% THC is legal to consume. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved one cannabis-derived and three cannabis-related drugs for treating side effects from chemotherapy or AIDS, and for treating patients with severe forms of childhood epilepsy.

Proponents of IM26 want health care professionals to be able to prescribe medical marijuana to “alleviate suffering and help patients in cases where other medications are ineffective or less safe.”   Opponents maintain that marijuana is highly addictive and hazardous, and “does not possess characteristics to be considered legitimate medication.”

To help answer questions in this area of public policy, the State contracted with Cannabis Public Policy Consulting, a group that has worked with government, research institutions, communities, and private businesses to “get legalization right.”  We have been told that it takes a minimum of 14 months, and sometimes much longer, to implement a safe and effective program.

In the next week, legislators will be considering HB1100, which does two things.  First, it provides additional flexibility on the implementation timeline, allowing the medicinal marijuana program to take effect on July 1, 2022. Additionally, it sets up an interim committee to take public input between now and next legislative session on questions that need more clarification.  Among the questions are, what testing is needed to ensure that products are safe for human consumption, who should regulate licensed establishments, and whether marijuana should be allowed to be grown at home.

I believe some people may find relief for certain ailments through use of medical marijuana. However, we need a safe and effective program that will work for all South Dakota.

 

State Employee Health Plans by District 24 Senator Mary Duvall.

For the past several years, the Legislature has had to appropriate extra money to address cost overruns in the State Employees Health Care plan. Last year, the amount was $11 million.

As legislators looked for ways to better budget for this part of the state employee benefit plan, there were questions about re-insurance stop loss coverage, limiting coverage options, or making other plan design changes to address these concerns.

Because of this, the Bureau of Human Resources (BHR) spent the past year working to design a health care plan that will work for state employees and taxpayers. The bureau created a work group including state employees, private sector employers, and those from the health insurance industry to look at our current plan, look at marketplace factors, and make recommendations to create a more affordable and sustainable benefit.

Savings generated by a move from the State’s direct contracts with healthcare providers to Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, are reinvested in Governor Noem’s proposed budget in two ways. Most of the savings would be reinvested directly to the benefits plans. In addition to the 2.4% increase proposed for state employees, $12 million in savings generated by this move would be used to bring employees closer to market rates.

The proposal includes four different options, giving state employees a wider range of choices to better meet their individual needs. One of those options will be a zero-premium plan, where the State pays the premium for the employee.

SB 57, which recently passed the Senate, provides the opportunity for employees to take full advantage of the changes proposed in the plans. Among changes in the bill is the ability for spouses who are both state employees to be covered on the same plan. Another change removes the condition that a dependent child must not have other coverage available. Like several of my colleagues, I was uncomfortable with the bill when it was first introduced. After researching the proposal and asking a lot of questions, I was able to support the bill.

One aspect that raised concerns is the proposal to repeal the option of health coverage for pre-65 retirees and their dependents. The number of pre-65 retiree participants has steadily declined since FY2015 when premiums were increased anywhere from 18% to 48% to align with the industry standard. Since the state eliminated the premium subsidy, enrollment in this category has dropped by nearly 80%.

Overall, the changes enabled by SB57 provide more benefit options, free up $12 million to help our employees most out of alignment with market salaries, and to build sustainability into the benefits package for the long-term. The vast majority of state employees will see salary increases, along with more health insurance options and lower costs when medical services are received.

Because individual situations are so unique, I would encourage any employee with questions to reach out to the BHR.

 

Heading into Legislative Session Week 4, by District 24 Senator Mary Duvall.

As a newcomer to the Health and Human Services committee, there are a number of areas where I need to do extra homework. It seems a little daunting for someone who has spent the last eight years working on transportation and taxation issues. 

In the first part of session, we heard from three state agencies that have a combined budget of $1.7 billion, or about one-third of all state ongoing spending.

The Department of Human Services is responsible for helping South Dakotans who have developmental disabilities, are blind or visually impaired, or need rehabilitation services.  This agency is also responsible for the SD Developmental Center (SDDC) in Redfield, which provides comprehensive services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities when needed services are not available in a community setting.

The SDDC was established by the state legislature in 1899 and opened in February 1902 as the Northern Hospital for the Insane. In 1913, the name was changed to State School and Home for the Feeble Minded; in 1951 it became known as The Redfield State Hospital and School.  The facility had an all-time population of 1,199 people in 1963, when the campus had 11 large buildings.  Today the SDDC serves about 100 people.  Among this year’s requests for one-time spending is $794,645 in general funds to demolish a vacant building on the SDCC campus.  

The Department of Social Services deals with Medicaid, child protection services, economic assistance, and behavioral health including suicide prevention and substance abuse prevention. 

The Department of Health is responsible for public health concerns, food and lodging safety, family and child development, healthcare licensing, vital records, and health data statistics.  For nearly a year now the Department of Health has been in the forefront in providing information related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Governor has proposed putting $50 million of one-time dollars into the South Dakota Health Care Trust Fund. This was established by a constitutional amendment approved by the voters in 2001 to be used for health care related programs.  At the end of Fiscal Year 2020, the fund had a balance of nearly $143 million.

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to me at maryduvall@midco.net.

 

Legislative Session Week 3, by District 24 Senator Mary Duvall.

Legislators are starting to dig into the proposals outlined in the Governor’s budget address for spending anticipated one-time dollars.  In addition to the ideas presented on December 8, we are starting to see ideas from individual legislators on uses for one-time funds.  The key theme I hear in our discussions is that we need to be careful about using one-time dollars for one-time projects, and not using this as an opportunity to create new programs with ongoing expenses.

One of the biggest requests is $100 million to expand access to broadband internet service.  The next biggest request is to add $50 million to the healthcare trust fund, to provide increased ongoing general fund revenue in the future to support health care related programs.  Another $21.7 million would be used to pay off two technical college bonds ahead of schedule. 

The Governor is recommending $12 million in state money, to be matched with insurance money and private donations, to build the Dakota Events Complex on the State Fair Grounds in Huron.  The new facility would replace the Beef Complex which was destroyed by fire last October, as well as replace the Sheep Barn.  The goal of the new complex would be to attract regional and national rodeos and other events.  An added benefit would be to allow 4-H livestock shows to be held in the same location as the open class livestock exhibits.

There are requests of $5 million each to fix old, state-owned dams that are starting to fail, as well as create a grant program for small meat processors to upgrade their equipment and facilities.  The governor is asking for $4.1 million for expenses related to implementing commercial marijuana sales and use within the state.  The Department of Revenue has hired a consultant who has worked with other states in implementing their marijuana laws, to guide South Dakota in implementing the provisions of medical and recreational marijuana approved by the voters.

I would like to see any extra one-time dollars invested in a way that will help improve our state’s infrastructure and spur economic growth for South Dakota.  If you would like to see a list of the December 8 budget proposals, or offer ideas on how to use one-time funds, please feel free to send an email to maryduvall@midco.net.

 

Heading into Legislative Session Week 2, by District 24 Senator Mary Duvall.

One of the bills I have worked on throughout the summer deals with cleaning up Chapter 10-6, the chapter of state law dealing with property tax assessments. Most of the work was done by staff at the Legislative Research Council in consultation with the Department of Revenue and several county assessors, so I can’t take much credit for the finished product.

While the State relies largely on sales and use tax for its general fund, local schools and political subdivisions are supported by taxes on real estate.

In the past, South Dakota levied taxes on a variety of personal property, ranging from jewelry to livestock. The personal property subject to tax was based on self-reporting, leading some to suggest that the tax was immoral because it encouraged people to lie. The personal property was repealed in 1978.  Today, local governments and schools rely on the tax on real estate. This area of code has been frequently amended as policy makers have sought to craft a “perfect” tax system. 

The bill I have introduced, SB 70, is an effort to tidy up the current law without making any policy changes. Looking at the chapter as it is today, more than 70 sections of law have been repealed and a handful of others have been transferred to a different part of the Code; however, the numbers of those sections are still scattered throughout the chapter. A few sections reiterate the same idea, some sections dealing with the same concept are in completely different parts of the chapter, and a few are no longer needed because they reflect fragments of the old self-reported personal property tax laws.

SB 70 is an effort to reorganize the chapter so– while it may not be more pleasant to read– at least it is easier to follow along. The sections will be reorganized and re-numbered starting with 10-6-101 so they are easier for taxpayers and county directors of equalization to reference. 

If you are interested in more information about the state’s property taxes, the LRC has an issue memorandum written in 2016 titled “Property Taxation–A Modern History.” You can find it on the LRC website sdlegislature.gov under the “References” tab.

 

Heading into Legislative Session Week 1, by District 24 Senator Mary Duvall.

As a new Legislative Session gets underway on the second Tuesday in January, District 24 residents will have a new team representing them in Pierre.  After eight years in the House, I will be moving to the Senate, and Mike Weisgram and Will Mortenson will be joining the House. 

At the beginning of each Legislative Session, I reflect on ways to best represent the people who live in Hughes, Hyde, Stanley, and Sully counties.  I have learned that legislators don’t have to be an expert on every topic.  However, they need to be diligent in getting good information from those who are the experts. 

We are fortunate to have a media presence in Pierre that is committed to reporting on legislative activities.  In addition, the Legislative Research Council (LRC) website provides comprehensive information about bills and amendments, committee work, and floor action.  By going to the website www.sdlegislature.gov, you can find the texts of bills and see when they are scheduled for committee hearing. You can see what amendments have been offered.  You can listen to committee discussion and floor debate, and see how legislators voted on a bill.

The best way to contact me during session is to send an email to  Mary.Duvall@sdlegislature.gov.  When communicating with legislators, one key point to remember is that we are elected to represent the people who live in our district. E-mails, phone calls, and letters from those in my district receive more attention than those from outside the district.  Anonymous emails or those from out-of-state groups generally receive limited attention.

Emails do not need to be lengthy.  It’s enough to identify the issue – use the bill number if you know it – and explain briefly how it affects you.  Mass emails or copy-and-paste emails are ineffective.  It’s far better to explain one or two key points in your own words about why you support or oppose a measure.  If you can point out unintended effects, have constructive suggestions or workable alternatives, please let us know.

It’s a privilege to represent this district where many constituents are state employees who have an in-depth understanding of various aspects of state government.  Others in this district have areas of expertise that can help ensure state government works well.  I encourage you to contact me with questions, comments, or suggestions on the legislative issues we will be tackling over the next nine weeks.



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