Industrial Hemp Moves Forward Despite Governor’s Push to Table

After House Ag Committee unanimously passed the Industrial Hemp program bill (HB 1191) last week, Governor Noem began an aggressive campaign pushing legislators to table and wait, saying the state isn’t ready to move forward. Despite those pleas in meetings with lawmakers and in the media, the House passed the bill 65-2.

This week, the Governor renewed her push against Industrial Hemp, calling it a gateway to legalizing marijuana in the state. While Noem’s messaging has gotten a lot of press, the comments on social media posts overwhelming suggest she is “out of touch” and that this program is needed by farmers. The bill moves to Senate Ag Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 19 and, if passed there, goes to the Senate floor. Despite the Governor’s promise the veto the measure, if the House vote is any indication of how the Senate will act, that veto would likely be overridden, and legislative leadership has already indicated their willingness to do so.

C-PACE Defeated in House Commerce & Energy; Work Continues

Despite an incredible amount of work and relationship-building over the past year, the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) Bill was defeated for the second year in a row in House Commerce. In a testament to that work, opposition from bankers and counties was much less heated, and a few of our opponents dropped their opposition after discussions on the bill pre-session yielded some helpful amendments.

One main concern expressed by opponents of HB 1090 was the lack of a pre-approved statewide “C-PACE Authority” to administer the program. However, this creates a “chicken-and-egg” issue: without passage of state enabling legislation (the purpose of the bill), there is no impetus to create a statewide administrator. Still, members of DRA’s Community Energy Development Committee (CED) have discussed the program with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), and there is some interest and enthusiasm there. Now that the new administration’s appointments to that office are completed, we can continue discussions to move the work forward for next year.

ADLS for Turbines Back in Original Form, Goes to Senate Floor

After a problematic amendment for “dimmers” rather than “lights off” stalled the bill two weeks ago in Senate Commerce & Energy, the Aircraft Detected Lighting Systems (ADLS) bill returned to its original form yesterday. Senate Bill 64 would require new wind development projects to use an FAA-approved system of lighting that remains off when aircraft are not in the vicinity, and to turn the lights on when aircraft approach. Once Senator Greenfield (R-Clark) stripped the amendment, the bill passed unanimously out of committee and moves to the Senate Floor.

PUC Certification Process Bill Killed in Committee

Late evening meetings commenced this week, ahead of next week’s deadline to move all bills from committee to their houses of origin.

Despite an initial response from Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson that they’d likely have no reason to oppose our bill, the Commission did arrive Thursday morning to oppose SB 184 on the grounds that it “re-litigates the original permit.” The bill was designed to address the lack of clarity in statute about the process by which the PUC certifies permits for facilities if no substantive work is completed within four years.

Currently, the process is entirely left up to the Commission, and in last summer’s Supreme Court decision on the certification of the Keystone XL pipeline permit, the more than nine days of hearings and testimony by affected citizens were simply brushed aside because there is no hearing process required by statute. Although the bill would have no bearing on what has transpired regarding Keystone XL, our members and allies saw this as a good government bill to provide transparency to the process of certification of ALL facility permits going forward, and to prevent other citizens from having to go through what they did.

Although we had a number of sponsors from both parties, we heard rumors prior to hearing that the executive branch was concerned about the potential applicability of the measure if KXL were to return again for certification, and may have met with legislators to indicate a desire to kill the bill. If there was such a meeting, we certainly weren’t invited, but the ranchers who testified to their experience were subject to extremely disrespectful comments by committee members that they were simply “sore losers” who weren’t happy with the outcome of the process and therefore wanted to change it.

Audio of the committee proceedings can be found here (final bill of the hearing):

MMIW Bills Receive Strong Support–Move Forward in Both Chambers

Three bills dealing with the crisis of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) and Missing & Murdered Indigenous Persons passed in both chambers this week. In a late-evening hearing in House State Affairs Committee, legislators passed both HB 1237 and HB 1238, which establish the duty to collect information and share data on missing and murdered indigenous persons, as well as to provide training for law enforcement on this issue. Separately, in Senate Judiciary Committee, a similar bill (SB 164) passed earlier in the week.

The sponsors of the bills came together early on Thursday morning to pull the language of the  three bills into one (still SB 164), and that bill passed the Senate Floor unanimously on Thursday afternoon.

Commercial Applicator Insurance Fails; Dept. of Ag Taken to Task

In a lengthy hearing on Thursday morning, organic and specialty producers and beekeepers made the case before the Senate Ag Committee that liability insurance should be a cost of doing business for commercial pesticide applicators. However, the Dept of Ag stood alongside industry lobbyists and individual applicators to fight the bill, arguing that if commercial applicators must carry liability insurance, so should everyone who applies.

Despite the fact that industry’s argument for all applicators to be insured would also apply to small-scale individual producers on their own property, the opponents of SB 147 were successful in killing any kind of legislation to curtail the growing problem with chemical drift for yet another year. Some committee members did have strong words for the Dept. of Ag who, despite undergoing changes in leadership, have failed to act substantively on last year’s promise to promulgate rules to deal with this crisis affecting producers of all kinds in the state. The motion to send the bill to the 41st Day passed by only one vote.

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