Lawmakers Eye Late-Session Options

Mar 9, 2015

Lawmakers in Pierre are keeping pieces of legislation afloat until they have final funding numbers. That sometimes means they’re using stop-gap measures to keep legislation alive.

The 2015 South Dakota State Legislative Session ends on Friday, and lawmakers are on deadline. The House Appropriations committee passed 14 separate measures during Monday’s meeting alone, but some of the bills are incomplete – and that’s part of the strategy.

Lawmakers are unsure whether any money is available for a tuition buy-down as in Senate Bill 181 or a state online textbook resource spelled out in Senate Bill 176.

Ahead of crossover day, lawmakers on the floor amended those and other pieces of legislation to include just one dollar to support the proposals. Members of the House Appropriations committee Monday upped that funding just a little bit.

"This amendment will amend it to $2 to keep it so that we can put money into this at the end of the day," Chair Justice Cronin says. "That would be the plan and the hope of myself and many others included."

If lawmakers approve bills that act as placeholders without changing them, the legislation goes to the governor. That’s the process: both chambers agree, so the next stop is the governor’s desk. But that isn’t a good plan if the bill has improper funding.

Instead of letting that happen or completely killing the legislation, Cronin says lawmakers are amending bills to give themselves more options in the last days.

"This amendment just changes the bill enough to make it not the same so we can force it into conference committee," Cronin says. 

Conference committees meet when the Senate and the House pass different versions of the same bill, and lawmakers can negotiate on language to introduce in both houses for final approval before it goes to the governor. Lawmakers often have different priorities or perspectives, and conference committees let them hash out a palatable solution.

In this circumstance, legislators see conference committees as the last way to tweak legislation with the latest fiscal details. Members of the committee don’t have all of the numbers yet to know for sure the exact dollar amount to appropriate for multiple programs, including some elements of education funding.