Olson’s Legislative Update

By Sen. Russell Olson, Dist. 8, Senate Majority Leader
The Senate adjourned at 11:58 p.m. last Friday after passing our General Bill.  The General Bill contains all of the appropriations (spending authority) for the state’s budget.  During the 38-day calendar of the 2013  Session, the House of Representatives held hearings for 250 separate bills and the Senate considered 242, with quite a few of those dealing with funding of “one-time” or “on-going” expenditures.
As a result of fiscal responsibility exercised by Republican leadership, South Dakota’s financial house is in order. The legislature balanced the budget, without raising taxes, while providing additional funding for education and Medicaid.
As your state senator, I am proud to be a Republican.  I am also proud to be known in Pierre as someone willing to work with Democrats to get important legislation passed. This session’s bi-partisan theme started early in the summer for me. As chair of the Post-Secondary Education Task Force, our bi-partisan committee traveled across South Dakota studying the policy and funding needs of our universities and technical institutes. From that study, we introduced three bills with me as prime sponsor that will change the way we set policy goals and adjust funding for higher education going forward. All three of those important bills passed because we worked together.
A significant piece of legislation introduced this session was Senate Bill 70, the Public Safety Improvement Act. This initiative was spearheaded by the Governor with direct involvement from the legislative and judicial branches. Again, I carried SB 70 on behalf of the bi-partisan, multi-branch effort to change the way South Dakota’s criminal justice system is managed.
The goals of the Public Safety Improvement Act were threefold: 1. Improve public safety by investing in programs, practices and policies that have shown to reduce repeat offenders; 2. Hold offenders more accountable by strengthening community supervision; 3. Reduce corrections spending and focus prison space on violent, chronic and career criminals.
I am proud I was able to carry such a significant piece of legislation that will truly change our entire system for the better.
Potentially the most significant effort to come out of this session is found in Senate Bill 235, the Building South Dakota Fund, which will provide incentives for projects that create new jobs and promote economic activity. The legislature appropriated $7 million into the fund as start-up money. In the future, money from the contractors’ excise tax will be dedicated to the fund.  We will also fund this effort in part through receipts from the state’s unclaimed property tax, which for the most part is funded by individuals and entities from outside our borders. The Building South Dakota Fund will help local economic development efforts by capitalizing and recapitalizing local economic development loan funds, assisting with road funding, K-12 funding and technical institutes.
The Building South Dakota Fund is of importance to me in that we developed this plan with full involvement and participation of the minority party.  From the first day of the session, I asked the leadership of both the Senate and House, Democrats and Republicans to sit down and work on this project, because without it South Dakota is at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting new companies to locate here.  This bill again held true to the bi-partisan nature of this session, having both Republicans and Democrats at the table from start to finish.
This was a particularly rewarding session for me. I introduced and passed South Dakota’s first needs based scholarship program, the “Dakota Dream” scholarship, which will help our most needy students attend college or technical school. I also successfully assisted our ethanol producers expand their markets overseas and limit the liability exposure for retailers of ethanol. I was also able to acquire $900,000 to expand the cyber security programs at Dakota State University. Finally, I was able to help our local cattlemen, through the appropriation of funds to help control predators right now, during calving season.
The ability for me to serve in the South Dakota Legislature rests on the shoulders of my wife, Jennie, who takes care of our four children, two dogs and snowed in drive-way, all while being a full-time nurse.  I couldn’t do this job without her putting in the exhausting effort that she does to make sure things run smoothly at home.  Thank you, Jennie.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve you.  You can contact me at 605-483-2223 or Russell@RussellOlson.com.

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