Whether you’re heading to today’s crackerbarrels with curiosity or protest signs, you should be ready to ask your legislators questions. Some may want to ask about votes already taken, like the nationally infamous House Bill 1008, the unneighborly paranoid potty bill. I prefer to focus on horses that are still in the barn. Here are some questions you can ask about bills coming before legislators next week (click on each bill number to see bill text, sponsors, and any votes taken so far):
- House members: Will you vote the same way Monday as you did Thursday?
- Which is better: the Governor’s plan Senate Bill 151, which goes easier on the poor by removing the tax on food, raises teacher pay to the regional median instead of the regional floor, and funds pay raises for every current teacher rather than, as the Governor’s plan does, requiring most schools to cut teachers to meet the salary goals?
- If we require schools to spend reserves to raise teacher pay to competitive market levels, where do schools get the money to maintain those salaries once those reserves are exhausted?
- What dollar amount should we target for our average teacher pay?
House Bill 1130—Rep. Russell’s bill to dedicate $75 million from video lottery to raising teacher pay and to cover that new spending by cutting other programs (on Monday’s Joint Appropriations Committee agenda):
- Would the cuts proposed in HB 1130 result in the loss of federal matching dollars for other state programs?
- Why do laws for short-term lenders need to be moved to a separate section of state code?
- What new guidelines for payday and title lenders or protections for consumers does HB 1161 provide that are not already provided under current law?
- How does HB 1161 help payday and title lenders?
- How does HB 1161 help borrowers?
- Who is pushing this bill and why?
- Lobbyists for HB 1161 have admitted that this bill is an effort to circumvent Initiated Measure 21, the 36% interest rate cap that we citizens get to vote on in November. Will support a bill that effectively takes away the public’s hard-earned right to vote on this important policy issue?
- Does SB 159 use public money to support religious schools? Is SB 159 unconstitutional?
- Why should the state invest money in private schools when it is struggling to find the money to pay public school teachers competitive wages?
- Why give this tax break exclusively to insurance companies? Why not offer a tax break to any business or any resident who pays for children to attend private schools?
- Why should the state subsidize tuition assistance for families who can afford private school tuition on their own? (Review my explanation of the income standards before asking!)
Senate Bill 160—giving legislators $4,500 a year ($9,000 for Legislative leaders) for “constituent expenses” outside of the Legislative Session (on Monday’s Joint Appropriations Committee agenda):
- SB 160 includes an emergency clause, meaning legislators are voting to give themselves this new money this year, starting in April. Should legislators get a pay raise before teachers do?
- SB 160 offers lump sum payments, without any requirement to report and itemize actual expenses. Should SB 160 require some accountability to ensure this new money is spent on constituent services?
- Why does SB 160 not include any safeguards against these public dollars being used by incumbents for campaign expenses?
- Does HB 1234 usurp power properly reserved to the executive branch?
- Good night! Are we going to expand Medicaid or what? Are we going to get health coverage for 50,000 South Dakotans and infuse our economy with hundreds of millions in federal dollars and thousands of new jobs, or are we going to let the Koch Brothers deny us those benefits just to scratch their corporate fascist itch? (I know, loaded question, but HB 1234 is a loaded bill.)
- Do you believe giving Native American students scholarships will be a more effective use of federal GEAR UP dollars and state matching funds than the academic summer camp and other middle- and high-school education enhancement programs coordinated under the grant by Mid-Central Educational Cooperative and its partners?
House Bill 1007—appropriating $175,000 for SDSU to research methods of evaluating agricultural land’s productive capacity and to update soil tables used in calculating property tax on ag land (on Monday’s Senate calendar):
- What shortcomings in the current ag assessment formula will HB 1007 help fix?
- Wouldn’t it be easier to tax farmers based on their actual income rather than on our best ag scientists’ guesstimate of their potential income?
- Will the state use the proceeds of this sale to raise pay, hire more staff, and otherwise ameliorate poor working conditions at the Redfield facility?
You can find many more interesting bills worth discussing with your legislators, but with action pending Monday, the above bills may be deserve first attention. Whatever bills interest you, go get answers from your legislators… and take notes and video!