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State Senate advances millions for water, prison construction, nursing homes and more

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State Senate advances millions for water, prison construction, nursing homes and more

Feb 27, 2024 | 7:47 pm ET
By Joshua Haiar Makenzie Huber
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State Senate advances millions for water, prison construction, nursing homes and more
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The Senate floor at the state Capitol during the 2024 Legislature. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

PIERRE — The state Senate advanced spending bills Tuesday that include millions to build a new men’s prison, fund water and wastewater projects, and keep nursing homes afloat, among other priorities. 

One bill would allocate $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for water infrastructure at the proposed men’s prison site in rural Lincoln County. 

The bill passed the Senate on a 27-6 vote. It would also move $226 million to a state fund for the construction of the prison. 

Sen. John Wiik, R-Big Stone City, said the current penitentiary in Sioux Falls “is being held together by ratchet straps and plywood.” He said “it’s time to look to the future” and this bill is a “solid first step.”

The Senate also approved other spending bills, sending them to the House as legislators work to finalize a budget. The annual legislative session ends next week, except for a day later in March to consider any vetoes from the governor.

Water infrastructure

Another bill would allocate $89.38 million of ARPA funds to water and wastewater infrastructure projects, plus another $28 million if previously approved uses of ARPA funds go unspent prior to the law’s deadlines. 

“This is true economic development, reaching into every corner of our state,” said Sen. Helene Duhamel, R-Rapid City. The bill passed on a 31-2 vote. 

ARPA funds must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

The 2022 Legislature passed a bill appropriating $600 million in ARPA funding to the state Board of Water and Natural Resources. The funding was earmarked for projects on the State Water Plan

The board has since awarded 210 grants across the state totaling $600 million, covering over one-third of $1.67 billion worth of total project costs.

Wildfires, logging

A bill that would provide $1.4 million in state funds to build maintenance shops for the state Wildland Fire Suppression Division in Rapid City and Hot Springs passed unanimously. 

Another bill would provide an as-yet undetermined amount of ARPA funds to create a “healthy forest critical infrastructure relief and grant program.”

That bill also unanimously passed. The bill was approved with $1 of funding to keep it alive so talks on the dollar amount can continue.

Sen. Randy Deibert, R-Spearfish, said the plan is to “promote forest health,” and help loggers and sawmills survive reduced logging levels in the Black Hills. He said the logging industry does “not have contracts in front of them to sustain existence.”

“We need a bridge to keep these people afloat,” Diebert said of the 250 workers depending on the legislation. 

Nursing homes, assisted living facilities

The Senate unanimously supported a $5 million effort to provide technology grants to nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state with remaining federal ARPA funds. The bill came as a recommendation out of the long term care summer study committee, which explored ways to support the industry.

The grants would be distributed by the state Department of Health and would need to be allocated by the end of 2024 to comply with federal ARPA funding stipulations.

The Senate also voted 30-3 to approve $3 million in a complementary bill, also a result of the summer study, that would provide grants to improve technology and patient monitoring at such facilities. The technology grants would not use ARPA dollars.

The grants would fund remote patient monitoring devices, fall detection technology, medical alerts and sensors, AI powered programs for risk detection, medication and other monitoring systems, prime sponsor of the bills Sen. Sydney Davis, R-Burbank, told lawmakers.

“Clinical innovation in long term care is critical to the sustainability of the industry,” Davis said.

Cybersecurity support for counties, cities

The Senate voted 28-5 to support a $7 million effort to bolster local governments’ cybersecurity. The effort was one of the top priorities to come out of the county funding summer study committee last year.

The $7 million price tag is roughly what South Dakota would have received from the federal government over the last three years if South Dakota had enrolled in a federal grant program aimed at bolstering local government cybersecurity.

The amount would cover the development of a centralized email system, similar to an existing email system for schools. Leftover funds could be used to strengthen the state’s Project Boundary Fence program, where cybersecurity experts from Dakota State University test local governments’ cybersecurity and offer recommendations to better protect themselves.

Quantum Computing

A bill to support research into quantum computing passed on a 32-1 vote. The bill would provide $3.03 million.

According to the MIT Technology Review, regular computers use bits, which are a stream of electrical or optical pulses representing 1s or zeros. Quantum computers achieve much faster processing power by using qubits, which are typically subatomic particles such as electrons or photons. 

The bill would fund a new Center for Quantum Information Science & Technology. The center would not be a physical location, but rather a partnership among Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota Mines in Rapid City, South Dakota State University in Brookings, and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

Funding for victims shelters, services

The Senate voted 30-3 to allocate $5 million to sexual assault, domestic violence and children’s shelters in South Dakota. The bill is a result of decreased federal funding for such organizations over the last few years and minimal state funding for such services — the state puts $225,000 toward the Domestic and Sexual Abuse program annually.

Such organizations requested $17 million in funding this year, yet were awarded about $9.2 million from the federal government. South Dakota provides minimal funding toward such programs. Grants would go through the Attorney General’s Office to address organizations’ needs ineligible for federal funding.

“The unpredictability of the federal funding source and the growing need for these services call for an examination of the state’s contribution to services that assist the victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault,” said Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton.

Airport terminals

The Senate voted 31-2 to allocate $19.5 million in state funds to improve airport terminals across the state. Sen. David Johnson, R-Rapid Ciry, said grants would support terminal improvement, expansion and future capacity demands.

Child care study

The Senate tabled a bill that would require the Department of Social Services to conduct an in-depth, state-wide study on child care accessibility and costs.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, told lawmakers before he requested the bill be tabled that DSS committed to providing the information and research in a report without requiring additional funding from the Legislature.

Reed said a statewide task force will continue working toward addressing the state’s child care crisis, which costs the state an estimated $329 million loss in productivity. Reed intends to use information obtained from the department to inform future legislation.