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Panel passes fine increases for unlicensed, insolvent grain buyers

State lawmakers are passing along bills that increase penalties on unlicensed grain buyers.

Supporters of the bills say the current fines don’t deter illegal activity.

Thetrio of bills will give the Public Utilities Commission a greater hold on unlicensed grain warehouses and brokers, as well as elevators lacking financial solvency.

The bills come after farmers have gone unpaid for grain they’ve taken to market.

One bill increases the civil fine against warehouse operators from $1,000 to $5,000 dollars a day, for a maximum of $50,000.

Chris Nelson is chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, which licenses grain warehouses and regulates grain trading in the state. He says current fines aren’t enough.

“For some folks, violating the law and paying the fine is simply a cost of doing business,” Nelson says. “Not with everybody, but we’ve experienced it.”

That bill also increases fines against grain buyers who don’t open their books to the public utilities commission up to $20,000.

Another bill would create a class 5 misdemeanor for any broker who sets up a transaction between a farmer and an unlicensed buyer.

“Why? Because we want to make sure that farmers are selling to licensed buyers,” Nelson says. “So they have all the protections to make sure farmers get paid.”

The senate Ag and Natural Recourses committee signaled support for the proposal, but delayed action for a prison impact statement.

The Attorney General’s office is introducing a bill in the House that would change the penalty for grain buyers that cannot pay farmers from a Class 6 felony to punishable as theft under state law.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.