Olson’s Legislative Update

By Sen. Russell Olson, District 8, Senate Majority Leader
I believe a key element separating our state legislature from our counterparts in Washington, D.C. is the amount of personal contact we have with our constituents.
This past weekend, we held town hall meetings in Flandreau and Madison, where I heard both compliments and concerns from citizens. Both meetings were packed. I updated the crowd on the passage of the Public Safety Improvement Act as well as the package of bills I carried on behalf of the Postsecondary Education Committee. I also gave an update on other bills I’m carrying this year.
The school sentinel bill and drainage laws dominated discussion in both communities. As I write this, I haven’t had either bill in front of me for consideration yet, but by the time you read this, I will have voted one the drainage bill or SB 179.
Last year during session, I advocated for a comprehensive study of South Dakota’s drainage laws. This past summer, I served on the Watershed Management Task Force that did just that. Our drainage laws were adopted in the mid-1980s following the fatal shooting of two men over drainage rights. As a state, we haven’t had a review since then.
Whether you are in agriculture or a sportsman, there are fears on both sides ranging from too much governance to not enough. I want to make sure we have a baseline of minimum standards that all counties can use when governing watershed management. In the past five years, more than a half dozen counties have thrown their hands up in frustration and walked away from drainage permitting. If that trend continues, I fear the state will be saddled with that power and I don’t think anyone wants that.
The task force I served on this past summer and fall wasn’t able to meet for the last time to make recommendations due to a winter storm. Without that meeting, it is hard to say what the committee would have recommended and we now have a few bills in the system without the committee’s recommendation.
SB 179 lays out a solid framework for what needs to be included in prudent drainage management at the county level. From the meetings in Flandreau and Madison, I know producers weren’t happy with the engineering component of the bill and I will work with them to address their concerns.
The dialogue must continue on this subject and further justifies my point that we can’t take on an issue of this magnitude in a series of short committee meetings. I hope I can convince the legislature that we need to study drainage management again next summer.
I also heard a great deal of concern over the school sentinel bill at these meetings. I will bring you more on that next week.
I hope to hear from you on issues that are important to you. I can be reached at sen.russellolson@state.sd.us or at my office in Pierre at 605-773-3828.

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