2016 Legislative Session
LEGISLATURE 2016: YOUR DEMOCRACY. USE IT.
Stay up to date: visit our legislative website, legislation.dakotarural.org
ENERGY, AG, AND EMINENT DOMAIN: A primer on our legislative priorities in 2016
ISSUE #1: FAIR PAYMENT AND TRANSPARENCY IN HOW UTILITIES COMPENSATE SOUTH DAKOTANS FOR ENERGY PRODUCTION
For several years now we have been working to reform how South Dakotans who have installed solar panels and are producing electricity for their neighbors are compensated by investor-owned utilities (IOUs). Most states have retail net metering, but policy makers here have resisted enacting such a policy in South Dakota.
So what we are left with is that independent energy producers are paid the “avoided cost” for what they put onto the grid for their neighbors. Avoided cost is supposed to be what the IOU “avoids” spending because they’re getting electricity from their customer.
The problem is a lack of transparency in how IOUs determine avoided cost. Right now, the only thing an IOU has to file is what their avoided cost is – not how they came up with it. We will bring legislation this year to fix this problem and ensure South Dakotans who have made the choice to be energy producers are being paid fairly and to ensure an open, transparent process.
ISSUE #2: REFORMING THE FAMILY FARM ACT TO BE PRO-FARM
Back in the 1970s, the South Dakota Legislature passed the “Family Farm Act,” an act designed to prevent corporate farming from taking over the state. Unfortunately, since that time, the Act has been weakened as exemptions were granted for various industries. As it stands now, the Family Farm Act neither prevents corporate farming nor protects family farms and ranches.
Our goal this year is to introduce legislation to start the conversation about how do to reform the Family Farm Act so it isn’t so much anti-corporate farm but pro-family farm. Farming has changed since the 1970s, and many family farm and ranch operations are corporations. We need to ensure our laws and regulations support those farmers and ranchers who are investing in our communities so they are competitive against large, corporate agri-business, and to make sure corporate, LLC, and independent family farms maintain their rightful place in South Dakota.
ISSUE #3: FIXING EMINENT DOMAIN TO PROTECT LANDOWNERS FROM PIPELINE COMPANIES WHO DON’T WANT TO DO IT RIGHT
Over the past year, Dakota Rural Action has been working on the Dakota Access pipeline proposal, and there are some big issues with how the company has treated landowners here in South Dakota and elsewhere.
This isn’t the first time, either; every time a pipeline is proposed in this state, the story is the same. Landowners are given an offer for their land, and if the don’t immediately accept the offer they are threatened with court proceedings and eminent domain, even when the company does not yet have a permit to build their pipeline in South Dakota.
There are many things wrong with this scenario, but a few specific issues have come to light with the Dakota Access pipeline in particular. Fully reforming the state’s eminent domain laws will take several years, but there are some immediate changes that can be made to protect landowners from the worst abuses.
Our lobbyist works before, during, and after the session to inform and educate DRA members about upcoming legislation and to encourage members to directly lobby their legislators themselves. This work includes lobby trainings where she teaches members about how to talk to legislators, encouraging members to write letters and emails to their legislators, and hosting lobby days up at the capitol building during the session. DRA also encourages members to hold house and community meetings to ensure the general public is informed about the issues during the session, to write letters to the editor to their local newspapers, and to help keep their own communities engaged. Meet Our Lobbyist.
DRA keeps its members up to date with weekly Legislative Updates and a yearly Legislative Guide, both mailed to our membership, as well as a Legislative Blog, updated daily to keep you connected and informed. Join today to receive weekly updates in your email or mail box and support grassroots organizing.
OUR WORK IN PIERRE IS 100% FUNDED BY MEMBERS.
It costs nearly $6,000 to fund our lobbyist’s room and board, as well as travel expenses for members to testify in Pierre. Please consider donating today to support our work in Pierre financially this session. Just $50 will cover one member’s travels to Pierre.
Your gifts are deeply appreciated and have directly benefited our many legislative victories over the years.
WAYS TO GET INVOLVED: A CITIZEN’S GUIDE
1. Write a letter or email – In this era of mass media, legislators really do respond well to direct communication, especially to letters. They know that you have taken the time to sit down, think about the issue, and communicate your thoughts to them. A few letter and email tips:
•Keep it short and sweet: They are very busy during the session, and will be able to take your opinion into consideration better if they can quickly understand what you are writing about.
•Ask for a specific action: If there is a vote coming up, or if you want them to bring up a certain issue, ask them that directly so they know what you are asking them to do.
2. Make a phone call – It can be difficult to get in direct touch with legislators during the session, but you can call the Capitol and leave a message or call them directly. Keep in mind they do not have a lot of time to talk, so be prepared to tell them quickly what you think.
3. Attend a crackerbarrel – Hosted in most South Dakota cities, crackerbarrels are attended by legislators throughout the session, and are a great place to ask legislators questions directly.
4. Write a letter to the editor – While it is important to talk to your legislators about their votes, it is also important to let your community know what is happening as well. Most newspapers publish letters to the editor on an on-going basis. Check the paper’s opinion page or website for their submission requirements, and be sure to let us know when your letter is published so we can promote it as well.
5. Hold a house meeting around an issue – You know your neighbors best, and this is a very informal way of getting them informed and involved. If you want to host a house meeting around a piece of legislation or a particular issue, your DRA chapter organizer can help you with how to get one going and how to run it. As always, personal contact is the best way to get the word out, and house meetings can even be attended by legislators.
Nothing – and we mean nothing – is stronger than citizens’ voices, rallying around an issue.
If you would like to host a house meeting, be a part of our phone activation list, or be involved in our lobbying efforts in Pierre, contact our West River office at 605.716.2200, e-mail Sabrina King at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone Sabrina in Pierre during the session at 605.939.0527. Staff is always willing to help you think through legislative strategy and prepare for testimony.