This interim has meant a lot of traveling across the state of South Dakota for this senator. With the upcoming session in the front windshield, the rear-view mirror sets the stage for the upcoming session in Pierre.

The Joint Appropriations Committee has been touring both the east and west ends of the states. The committee has visited universities, businesses, technical colleges, airports, cities economic development projects and listened to leaders of communities. The intent was to assess the state’s dollars going to the above entities projects and learning what are outcomes and/or what direction are the projects going. The committee continues to follow up on letters of intent that went out to agencies receiving funding in the new fiscal year and how those dollars are being allocated. Accountability and follow-through seems to be the message coming from the committee to the funded entities/projects.  

• Interim Rules saw many agencies bring proposed administrative changes probably the biggest agenda item was the medical marijuana.

Though the Department of Health had to come back a second time, the packet of rules did get out and time frames are being met for implementation. The testifiers for the proposed rules represented the industry and their intent in making sure they were players in the new business ventures for producing, distributing and selling marijuana. The only absent party were the individuals that were going to use medical marijuana. The message from proponents for the rules was always the will of the people for the vote, but those people did not appear at the hearings.

• The Mental Health Task Force met to review the actions and follow up from the work carried over the past two years.

Efforts have been going toward the development of regional mental health centers to serve patients in their own communities. There continues to be a need for a model of mental health access and care for those individuals that are in crisis and do not need hospitalization greater than five days. These are individuals that are needing short-term intervention that can be treated in the community without having to receive a competency hearing for admission to HSC for treatment. These centers would provide for short term stays which transition to community-based providers. This will result in beds being available at HSC for treating those individuals that need hospitalization.

It is known that HSC, like all health care providers, is challenged in not having the needed staff to operate at their capacity level. This model is a continuum of care concept so that the right services to meet the right needs for the mental health patients are in regional locations in South Dakota. Lewis and Clark Behavioral Health and a mental health service organization in Watertown are working with the Department of Social Services to collaborate on these regional centers.

There continues to be a challenge for access to competency restoration services at HSC. Legislation was passed a few years back to create a community-based model, but it too is dependent upon having practitioners available where the services are needed.

Everything is part of a mental health delivery system that continues to evolve based on having the necessary type and number of providers for patients to access.

The Unified Judicial System has worked with law enforcement to implement a telehealth option for officers to access mental health services when called upon to engage with an individual in a mental health crisis. iPads are made available to the officers to have immediate contact with a mental health provider to assess the situation and transport the individual to the appropriate resource for intervention.

• Finally, the Government Operations and Audit Committee met to continue to assess and work with agencies in their development of performance indicators.

State government is no different than the private sector to identify what should be the purpose and outcome of the agency for serving our citizens. We reviewed many agencies and sent back proposed indicators for improved metrics to have measurable outcomes.  

The recent review of the certification program for appraisers and the departure of the ex-director from the program was an operational issue that was queried by the committee. The intentional absence of the ex-director from the meeting yielded only testimony from the department secretary. Also in the discussion was the settlement between the agency and the ex-director that came from the People’s Fund.

There are two sides, at least, to any event, and the committee was at a disadvantage in not gleaning facts from the other party involved. Though the committee was not in consensus with the outcome of the testimony, further review of the situation will be done at the request of the attorney general.  The committee is also putting together a list of questions to be sent to Ms. Bren for her responses. The committee indicated further pursuance of information from the Secretary.

Finally, I am writing this as the Legislature enters its second day for resolving the redistricting plan for the state.  It appears that the houses cannot reach a consensus, so if not resolved, it will go to the Supreme Court for the plan. One watching the process can see leadership egos at work.

With Veterans Day upon us, I want to thank our veterans for their service to our country and to the great state of South Dakota. You are the greatest!

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