South Dakota's 96th legislative session has come to a close. As with every session there were winners and losers. This year, the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce advocated on nearly 40 bills of the 477 bills that were introduced.
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The Chamber will publish our Annual Legislative Report in mid-April, which will include a detailed analysis of the session and the Chamber Legislative Scorecard. For now, I want to share with you key votes and outcomes from the 96th legislative session.
It is no secret that SB 171 was the highest priority for the Chamber and a game-changer for our state. SB 171 passed and was signed by Governor Noem on March 18. It appropriates $50 million from the general fund to help create a needs-based scholarship endowment for students from South Dakota. The $50 million is the state government's share to a proposed $200 million scholarship fund that will help South Dakota students with financial needs attend any institution of education beyond the high school level within the state. The scholarship was announced in January of this year after First PREMIER Bank, PREMIER Bankcard and T. Denny Sanford made a historic gift of $100 million to establish the scholarship in South Dakota. First PREMIER Bank/PREMIER Bankcard has also begun raising an additional $50 million from other investors. It is estimated the $200 million Freedom Scholarship fund will generate about $8 million every year to be distributed to public universities, private colleges and tribal colleges.
Other key bills the Chamber supported and were passed include:
- SB 162 — The airport flight restoration and recruitment bill appropriates $1.9 million each for the Rapid City and Sioux Falls airports and $200,000 for each of South Dakota's Essential Air Service (EAS) airports of Pierre, Aberdeen and Watertown. COVID-19 negatively affected the aviation and airline industry. The Sioux Falls airport seeks to use the funds to help restore lost flights and to recruit direct flights to Washington D.C. and New York.
- SB 186 — The Link bill. The Link is a community triage center in Sioux Falls that will provide immediate access to sobering and detox services along with triaging support for mental illness urgent care. The Link is a private non-profit organization formed through the partnership of the City of Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County, Avera and Sanford Health. These entities both committed significant resources, along with receiving several grants, to the tune of $6.2 million dollars. The Link plans to open in May of this year.
- SB 180 — The State Veteran's Cemetery Road Improvements bill. Slip Up Creek Road needs significant improvements to sustain two-way traffic to the State's Veteran Cemetery that will open later this year. The bill appropriates $1.5 million to the Department of Veteran's Affairs for road improvements.
- HB 1256 — The Big Sioux Clean Up bill. This bill appropriates $3 million dollars to the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources for the purposes of the cleanup and restoration of the Big Sioux River and watershed.
A bill the Chamber opposed was HB 1217. Proponents of the bill seek to prohibit transgender females from participating in women's sports for K-12 sports, universities and colleges under the control of the Board of Regents and in South Dakota's technical colleges. The Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, in coordination with the Sioux Falls Sports Authority, has opposed bills such as HB 1217 because of the economic harm these bills will inflict on the state should they become law. HB 1217 would not only devastate South Dakota sports and sporting opportunities, but also will negatively impact business and workforce recruitment. HB 1217 was passed by the legislature. As of press time, the Governor had not yet signed it into law.
As the voice of business, our efforts in Pierre are guided through the leadership of the Issues Management Council, the Legislative Issues Council and the Board of Directors. We thank them for their involvement.