The most debated bill of the week was to expand the opportunity scholarship to home schooled students. Currently they are required to get a 28 on their ACT; public students need a 24 among other requirements. The higher score requirement for home-schooled students was due to having an exemption from other curriculum requirements. The bill would have brought the score down to 24. The bill failed 35-35 on Wednesday and was asked to be reconsidered. The next day the bill was reconsidered with an amendment brought to bring the ACT score down to 26 as a compromise. The bill narrowly passed. I voted yes on the bill in both forms because I felt it was a good way to support home-schooled students and there was barely any fiscal impact if any to the state.

Ag committee has been seeing a good number of bills. I voted against a bill to require statewide inspection of livestock. I had concerns about the cost of fees to producers, another regulation that might not be needed, and also the extra money it would cost the state to hire and train more inspectors. The bill passed 7-6.

Another bill drawing a good deal of attention was related to meandered and non-meandered waters. It had to do with waters that had flooded and remain beyond their original boundaries and people using those waters for recreation. There have been some conflicts with property owners concerned with hunters and fishermen getting too close to their homes and disturbing livestock. This bill will give the option for landowners to post certain areas to protect their property that they pay taxes on. It will not affect navigable streams or rivers or areas that have been used for more than 21 years for recreation, and the burden lies with the landowners to properly post their land where they deem necessary. Any land not posted will still be deemed for public use. I voted yes; it narrowly passed the house.

I voted yes to allow townships to levy 50 cents per thousand of valuation for capital improvement (roads, bridges, culverts). This bill is permissive and allows for local control. Townships currently receive only 1.75 percent of property taxes paid in the state. The bill needed 47 votes to pass; it received exactly 47 votes. Township finances are struggling and many roads are not in good condition. Besides being important for economic development, recreational access and farmers, the roads are becoming a serious safety and liability issue in many areas. Also, I made the point on the house floor that it costs extra money for people to drive out of the way going to work and hauling grain. School buses have to drive out of the way to pick up kids when certain roads aren’t drivable, not to mention the cost of wear and tear to the vehicles on the poor roads they are driving on.

I can be reached by email at or phone at 605-660-6468.

Veterans, health care, open government top agenda

Rep. Stace Nelson - R-Dist. 19, Fulton

It was a busy last week. I had three veterans’ organization-requested (VFW, American Legion, etc) bills I sponsored up in State Affairs Committee. HB-1067 would designate the third Friday of September as POW/MIA a state working holiday. It passed committee, received a unanimous vote on the House floor, and now heads to the Senate. HB-1121 required the state to annually publish accurate statistics of how many veterans and disabled veterans are employed by the state, identical to what the federal government currently does, and as reportedly promised by then-candidate Dennis Daugaard in the 2010 election. The Daugaard administration opposed the bill, and it was killed in committee 9-4. HB-1221 would have allowed veteran organizations to establish a veterans’ cemetery and memorial park in Eastern South Dakota, at no cost to South Dakotans. The bill had 98 of 105 legislators as co-sponsors. The Daugaard administration opposed the bill, and it was killed in committee 9-4.

A constituent-requested bill I sponsored, HB-1122, lifts current restrictions placed only on county commissioners from small counties regarding decisions on county workers’ health insurance. It passed Local Government Committee with a unanimous vote, then 69 of 70 votes on the House floor and now heads to the Senate. HB-1158 was a bill I sponsored that addressed oversights in our open government statutes that require posting of government meeting agendas. Because it wasn’t in statute, some proposed meeting agendas in the state were leaving off the time, date, and locations of the meetings, because it was not explicitly required in statute. The bill fixes those oversights. It passed out of both the Local Government Committee and the House floor with a unanimous vote and now heads to the Senate.

The best way to get in touch with me is via my state email address:, by the legislative fax number (605) 773-6806, or by message on the floor (605) 773-3851.

Lawmakers focus on prisons, schools

Sen. Bill Van Gerpen - R-Dist. 19, Tyndall

A major focus of the Legislature this year is addressing the growth of our prison population and protecting our children in our schools. The prison population is surging. Corrections spending will exceed $100 million in 2013. To address this concern, a task force was formed and developed objectives for the Legislature to support and taxpayers to fund. The three major endeavors are:

1. Strengthen supervision and hold offenders more accountable. The emphasis would be to enhance and expand drug and DUI courts and identify veterans and their potential treatment needs. Several Probation supervision pilot programs would be established. Offenders would be more accountable to victims with a statewide automated victim information and notification system. Substance abuse and mental health treatment would receive more intensive attention.

2. Control corrections spending and focus prison space on violent and career criminals. Sentencing of drug dealers would be differentiated from drug users.

3. Ensure quality and sustainability of reforms. An oversight council to monitor and evaluate the implementation of these reforms would be appointed. More training for parole boards, judges, community supervision officers and parole agents would be a part of this endeavor. Much of the Public Safety Improvement Act is noteworthy.

One aspect of the study and proposed legislation that seems to be missing is the prevention of individuals from committing the crime in the first place. We are focused on offenders and attempting to provide a program to keep them from another crime. We need to address preventing the individual from becoming a criminal and all the heartache, sadness, broken homes, taxpayer costs that a crime causes.

Legislators will spend a significant amount of time this session debating arming staff with guns. You’ll hear the term school sentinels. HB 1087 would permit school boards to decide whether or not to arm personnel in the school. I personally am strongly opposed to guns in school. However, I support local control and trust local school boards elected by local constituents to their position. One concern I have is this emotional issue will channel our discussion away from school funding. I can assure you school funding will continue to be a priority of mine. Finally, if the Legislature decides to leave the decision of arming of school staff with local school boards, which I believe should be their decision, then I believe the local school should also have the option of arming school staff with opportunity to teach the Ten Commandments.