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Interim Committee Proposes Mental Health Hotline Without Funding, Five New Task Forces

Funny: we elected another Republican majority to run our state, but nearly every bill in the hopper so far is about making government spend and do more, not less.

The latest liberal activist legislation to appear is Senate Bill 8, a measure brought to us by the interim committee on access to mental health services. This bill, the only concrete legislation to emerge from the interim committee’s labors, would direct the Department of Social Services to work with the counties to create a “statewide centralized resource information system”—that’s the expanded 211 service the committee talked about to help prevent suicide, domestic abuse, and child mistreatment. SB 8 specifies that the resource information system would help people find crisis or disaster resources, “resources for social services, human services, legal assistance, financial assistance, or for other related needs; and assistance for mental health, physical health, or substance abuse.”

Legal assistance? So does that mean when we call the A.G. and SOS with campaign finance questions and they say they can’t give legal advice, we can call 211 and get connected with a lawyer?

In their December 3 conversation, the committee said maintaining an expanded 211 hotline would cost $800,000 a year; SB 8 includes no funding. The interim committee is willing to talk about good ideas but not commit with cash.

The interim committee has also posted Senate Concurrent Resolution 2, which would create five separate task forces to address the following mental health issues:

  1. increasing community placement of mental illness patients;
  2. developing alternative community-based short-stay and day treatment alternatives;
  3. increasing use of telehealth and telemedicine;
  4. changing Human Service Center nursing home admission criteria and building mental health nursing home capacity for people with organic brain damage;
  5. increasing transitional housing and residential services and developing “caregiver supports.”

SCR 2 envisions having all five of these new task forces meet at least three times and report by the end of 2019. But since Governor-Elect Noem has declared new task forces verboten, and since Noem has already put her stamp on the Senate leadership, we can expect this government bloat to go nowhere. And since our receipts are in the red, and since Kristi Noem would never ever ever vote for deficit spending, we can expect SB 8 to sink when someone in committee asks the inevitable question about how we’ll pay for more government action.


  1. Porter Lansing 2018-12-27 10:24

    You see? It’s not that there aren’t people in SD that know what needs to be done and people in SD that know how to do it. It’s the “lazy leader syndrome” that was force fed the “small government is the best way to serve SoDak” hot lunch during Reagan’s term. Hey, Pierre! Stop doing nothing, spending nothing and improving nothing and calling it a “small gov’t victory”. People need help and government (run efficiently) is the cheapest way to get ‘er done.

  2. Donald Pay 2018-12-27 10:41

    It’s clear with this interim committee that the Legislature is not up to the task of governing. Punting to five task forces after an apparent waste of an interim session seems to be an admission that Legislators can’t do the bare minimum. At least they did admit the truth and suggest task forces to do the real work that they couldn’t do. And it makes sense. This is a very difficult area of government, requiring expertise in many fields and the involvement of various levels of government. It’s best to get the folks who deal with this every day to hash out a better approach.

    But this also brings out an idea I’ve pondered for several decades. Legislative branches in many states and the federal government are badly broken. Maybe its time to rethink how we deal with the Legislative Branch. We know it isn’t efficient, and with modern gerrymandering techniques, it not even representative. How do you have a functioning representative democracy if the legislature decides its voters, rather than voters deciding its legislature?

    There are many alternatives to get to a functioning Legislative Branch. Here’s one: abolish the House of Representatives and make the Senate a full-time, decently paid non-partisan body, similar to what is done in Nebraska.

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-27 15:03

    Donald gets me thinking about how task forces could support unicamerality and citizen participation:

    I’ve balked at going unicameral because I appreciate the inefficiency of the two-chamber system. Two committee hearings and two floor votes give us two chances to testify and four chances to lobby hard to kill bad bills. If we could use the task forces to guarantee at least one more opportunity for citizen input and resistance, I could swallow unicamerality a little more easily. So how about this plan?:

    1. Do as Donald says and eliminate the House.

    2. Give Senators the House members’ pay. That triples compensation from $10,200 to $30,600.

    3. That’s still only three-fifths of median household income, so we’ll need to come up with another $20K per legislator to ensure this full-time gig is open to working people and not just retirees and the wealthy.

    4. Require every bill to go through task force review and recommendation before Senate committee hearing.

    5. Legislators (sitting or past) cannot make up a majority of any task force. The majority of the task forces must be regular citizens.

    6. When the Legislature impanels a task force to create legislation, the task force must include experts and practitioners in the field.

    7. When legislators bring their own bills, the Senate can refer those bills to existing task forces or perhaps create a new class of citizen-review juries: panels of citizens selected at random, just like for jury duty, who will hear the bills legislators propose and give their recommendation. The citizen-review jury would have the power to kill a bill by majority vote.

    8. Shell bills are outlawed; a legislator bill must consist of complete, enactable text that can receive fair, informed review by a citizen-review jury.

    9. Hoghousing may continue, but any hoghouse sends a bill back to the task force that originated it or the citizen-review jury that first heard it.

    Anyone game?

  4. Debbo 2018-12-27 21:27

    I’d say no to hog housing too.
    Task forces need a time limit per bill.
    Will they be compensated for travel, missed work, or meet electronically? The latter would ensure a broader scope of citizens.
    So the task force has veto power?
    Conveners for the task forces? An impartial individual who’s a parliamentarian to run meetings. That would be their paid employment.
    Limit to how many task forces an individual can be on ?

    I dunno Cory. I like it, but it’s a new form of government. Does SD need year round government? Or does the government we have need reform?
    Nonpartisan panel creates districts.
    No hoghousing or shell bills.
    No more than 16 total years, lifetime, elected to statehouse.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-12-29 07:58

    Term limits will push me away form the table. I’m sticking with my voter-responsibility position: if someone has been in Pierre too long, we need to take action and vote him out.

    Yup: task forces would get compensated for mileage, expenses, missed wages, etc. Only fair.

    It would make sense to limit how many task forces one person can serve on. Perhaps we should say zero overlap: one task force at a time, just like juries.

    Year-round could be too long for an actual Session, but as Donald notes, the current part-time Legislature isn’t able to get its head around issues that require heavy study. My interest is less in having legislators meeting and debating and voting every week and more in making time to do the serious study and gathering of public input that Donald talks about. When Al Novstrup spends all summer in Sioux Falls running his go-karts, then gets to November and says he still doesn’t have any ideas for legislation, that part-time status clearly leaves us with less listening and study than we deserve from our legislators.

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