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South Dakota Weekly Legislative Report: February 5-11, 2012

February 11, 2012

from the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club

Both HB 1081 and 1082, the so-called Mountain Lion bills, were attempts by Rep. Betty Olson to add new legislation to the original mountain lion management law. These two bills would have had the effect of watering down the original law allowing a shooter to use dogs and a smaller caliber rifle when he felt threatened by a lion. Not unreasonable in that regard, these bills however would have added loopholes and entangled what has generally been agreed upon as a solid management law currently in place. Neither of the lion shooters in the northwest part of the state who broke technicalities of the law was prosecuted. The House Ag & Nat. Res. committee rejected these bills and both were sent to the 41st day (killed) by solid 2 to 1 majority.

HB 1087 which would have limited the period of a conservation easement created after July 1, 2012, for a period of no more than thirty years was passed out of committee by the House Ag & Nat. Res. by a 2 to 1 majority despite what I felt was excellent compelling testimony by both John Falstich and George Vandel. There followed a good deal of consternation over its “do-pass” to the House by the entire conservation lobby et. al. It had a brief shelf life—only one day before it went to the floor and was decisively defeated 22 to 45. Thanks for asking your Representative to kill this bill.

Other conservation easement legislation was a mix of the good and bad. HB 1237, an Ag land valuation bill that came up last session, sought to shift the tax valuation of “highest and best” use of land (i.e. cropland) to an “actual use” valuation (i.e. non-cropland/grassland/slough/wetlands). It would have been a shift of some tax burden from non-cropland to cropland and would have provided an incentive to keep uncultivated land in pasture or grass. Like last session, it proved a tough sell to the state revenue department and big grain producers who opposed it. It was killed in the House Taxation committee.

HB 1240 again recognized the disparity in present tax valuation between cultivated cropland and lands specifically under conservation easement restrictions with a lower tax valuation. HB 1240 was an attempt to make easement lessors make up the lower difference in this disparity by forcing them to pay more taxes on their easements to equal highest and best use. It would have represented a significant cost burden increase for all conservation agencies, public and private, which own and manage conservation easements. There was little support and a great deal of opposition against this bill and it was tabled (killed) in committee.

Conservation easements are continually under attack in the legislature year after year as many thousand of acres now enjoy this status and are protected by willing landowners. A second-generation landowner from Marshall County came to the House Ag hearing to complain about how his 95-year-old father had put some of his land into a perpetual conservation easement that his son now owns and is now unable to sell for a new development. The easement of course is doing what it was designed to do, protect a valuable conservation tract of land, much to the chagrin and outrage of the third generation landowner who wants to cash-in.

Conservation easements, particularly those sold into perpetuity will continue to be a thorny subject for legislators to assess and tax. I believe the majority of those holding conservation easements are content with their situation while a tiny minority will always be unhappy with their situation. Conservation easement restrictions, equalization and taxation are proving to be a vexing complex of interrelated issues that appears to be morphing into an ever-larger, paralytic entangling maze. I expect conservation easement issues to be under constant scrutiny and attack from legislators in the future.

HB 1231 is a bill that I can only assume sought to calm the fears of citizens and solidify their support for “fracking” by trying to legislate fiction into truth. The bill stated that “hydraulic fracturing, a mechanical method of increasing the permeability of rock to increase the amount of oil and gas produced is deemed an acceptable recovery process in this state”.

Vague and non-specific, HB 1231 in my opinion was without merit whatsoever. Nonetheless, this bill had a large contingent of co-sponsors. It was however, deemed redundant and tabled by the House Ag & Nat. Res. committee.

HB 1262, a bill to provide a license for certain small scale mechanized gold mining operations in Black Hills was tabled by a close vote of 7 to 6. This bill had implications for disrupting sensitive riparian habitat in the Black Hills. Since it was such a close vote, I won’t be surprised if it comes back again next year.

HB 1111, an eminent domain bill that protects the rights of landowners who have to negotiate with large entities needing access across their property, received a solid “do-pass” (10-3) vote from the House Transportation committee and will go to the House floor for a vote. This is a good bill for landowners and we support it.

HB 1166 proposed using state funding to kill prairie dogs, basically more unnecessary persecution of prairie dogs at taxpayers’ expense. This bill was tabled (killed) in the House State Affairs committee 10-3

SB 179 would have made a $30 million energy infrastructure loan fund for the construction of electrical transmission and generator facilities related to renewable energy sources (wind). This bill was tabled (killed) in the Senate State Affairs committee by a vote of 7-0.

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Remember, legislators and bureaucrats pay attention to their constituents who make an effort to watch and follow them on what they are doing so I continue to urge you to get involved to the extent you feel comfortable. All of these bills are pending in committees so you need to write to
specific committee members that will vote on them first.

To check out bills, access the SD state Legislative Research Council (LRC) homepage, 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 tends to make 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. Your input does make a difference.

Submitted by Edward Raventon
Sierra Club lobbyist

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