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South Dakota Legislative Weekly Report: January 10-14, 2012

January 19, 2012

Note: Sierra Club is sharing its legislative reports with SDRC.
Lawrence Novotny, SDRC

I want to welcome back all the readers of this legislative newsletter report from last year and thank you for your continued commitment and support of natural resource conservation and environmental protection issues.

The first week of the session did not produce any bills of any particular interest or concern. Often, the first week of the legislative session tends to cover housekeeping issues regarding old laws and minor legislation. Taking advantage of the lull so to speak, I set up a meeting with Luke
Temple, Dakota Rural Action lobbyist and Paul Lepisto, Izaac Walton League representative in Pierre. We all tend to share similar concerns regarding resource conservation and environmental protection and I wanted to learn what they were watching and working on.

Mr. Temple has been working on an eminent domain bill that protects the rights of landowners. He tried to introduce an eminent domain bill during the last session with safeguards protecting landowners from being “bulldozed” by big corporations but his sponsor backed out at the last
minute. He is drafting a new bill this session specifically designed to protect the bargaining rights of landowners who are being forced to deal with TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline. I liked what Temple outlined for me at our meeting. I’ll share the specifics as soon as a bill has been drafted
and introduced.

Last session I supported an attempt to get a $30 million bond bill approved by the legislature that would protect landowners in the event of a major oil pipeline rupture (Nebraska passed a $100 million bond). That bill didn’t get out of committee. I hope the fact that Nebraska was
able to set the terms on what they would accept as bonding compensation as well as an alternate route around the sandhills will embolden the SD legislature to do the same thereby gaining much better protection for the land and landowners. I believe a bill on this issue is being drafted now
and will be an important issue unless the Federal Government renders its moot by denying Keystone XL the right to enter the U.S.

Another issue that we supported last session was lowering the tax valuation of non-cropland (i.e. pasture/grassland). We got a good start with two new laws last session designed to reassess existing land use and values statewide based on what they actually are (i.e. cropland or non-cropland) as opposed to their highest income value potential. The next step will require legislation to actually implement a new tax valuation system. There was a good deal of pushback on this issue from the state revenue department and some grain farmers last session.

Taxation and valuation of agricultural land could be a hot topic with the meteoric rise of ag land values and ag commodities over the last two years. High commodity prices are putting more pressure on farmers to till every piece of arable land. This is already beginning to have devastating consequences for wildlife and wildlife habitat. This situation coupled with the reduction of federal dollars dedicated to CRP lands will continue to further isolate and reduce lands available to wildlife.

Mr. Lepisto foresees water management issues that focus on expanding drain tiling of potholes, sloughs and marshes disrupting natural water flows and threatening critical waterfowl production habitat in the eastern part of the state. It’s still too early to know how any of these issues will play out in the legislature this year.

While I will work hard to keep you posted on issues in the legislature and testify as needed, your input concerning proposed legislation is vital in everyway. Legislators pay attention to their constituents who make an effort to watch and follow them on what they are doing so I urge you all to get involved to the extent you feel comfortable.

It’s pretty easy to check out bills for yourself by accessing the SD state Legislative Research Council (LRC) homepage (http://legis.state.sd.us/) and then click on “Current Legislative Session” and then “Bills“. The easiest way to send an email to a legislator is to go to the LRC homepage, click on “Current Legislators” then click on the legislator you want to contact. Write a brief message in the box and then click send. You will also find a phone number and mailing address in their contact information if you want to make your message more personal which makes for a longer lasting impression. Whatever method you choose, try to make your message brief, concise and to the point as well as polite and respectful.

Submitted by Edward Raventon
Sierra Club Lobbyist, South Dakota Chapter

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