On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me—bills!

The first bills filed for the 2015 South Dakota Legislature don't necessarily predict how the Session will go any more than the first two tiny precincts that report their ballot count dictate how the election will turn out. But the first nine bills in the hamper show an interesting difference between the House and the Senate.

The House's first bills deal with the pressing need to sell more alcohol in South Dakota. House Bills 1001 through 1004 come from the Interim Alcoholic Beverage Shipping and Distribution Committee (yes, this issue needed a committee). HB 1001 lets us order hooch at home by FedEx. HB 1004 lets brewers sell their brew to retailers and wholesalers.

In other hoochie-coochie, HB 1002 spends $100,000 right now! to implement electronic reporting and submission of alcohol taxes. HB 1003 gets rid of a 2% wholesale tax on alcoholic beverages but raises the occupational tax on everything stronger than beer by 25%. It also cuts the municipalities' share of the state alcohol tax from 25% to 20% (hey! shout the munis).

To round out the House's first urgent offerings, HB 1005 removes language about the defunct foundation program fund, and Rep. Dick Werner (R-22/Huron) introduces HB 1006 to allow the use of bullhead and fish guts as bait.

Meanwhile, the Senate earns its title as the upper chamber by focusing on two far more significant (and somewhat related!) statewide issues: roads and drainage. Senate Bill 1 is the monster we knew was coming, Senator Mike Vehle's (R-20/Mitchell) latest swing at getting the state to pay for road repairs. SB 1 will...

  1. raise the motor vehicle excise tax from 3% to 4%;
  2. raise the motor fuel excise tax in ten annual steps, starting July 1, 2016, from 22 cents now to 28.16 cents per gallon on July 1, 2025;
  3. tax ethanol at ten cents per gallon starting July 1, 2015, and bump that tax up two cents each year until July 1, 2021, when it reaches 22 cents;
  4. tax dyed special fuel at seven cents per gallon;
  5. tack a 3%-of-wholesale tax—7.5 cents to start with and as an ongoing minimum—on all fuel except aviation and jet fuel (Mike Rounds is our U.S. Senator now);
  6. moves 50% of the funds from petroleum release compensation and tank inspection fees to the highway construction fund starting July 1, 2020;
  7. moves a little bit of money from the petroleum release compensation fund to the state capital construction fund (wait a minute: with Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines maybe coming, is it a good idea to put less money away for oil spills?);
  8. raises motor vehicle license fees ten percent (for a small car, the plates price rises from $30 to $33);
  9. imposes a new license fee of $80 on all-electric vehicles and $40 on hybrids (8o bucks?! That's the tax you'd pay now on 364 gallons of gas, or just over 10,000 miles of travel in a conventional 30-mpg vehicle);
  10. leaves the cap on county wheel taxes at $4 per wheel, but raises the cap on total per-vehicle wheel tax from $16 to $48 (Doug Wiken! That's your idea, isn't it?); and,
  11. creates funds to help local governments fix their roads and bridges.

Senate Bill 1 by itself probably fills the stepping-in-it quota for the Senate. But then comes the Regional Watershed Advisory Task Force shaking our trees with two bills on drainage. Senate Bill 2 would create "river basin natural resource districts," new governmental entities with the power to tax and regulate to protect their watersheds. SB 2 also repeals some current drainage statutes that could get in the way of the work of the new river basin districts.

Senate Bill 3 would create a new statewide mediation program to help resolve disputes over drainage. However, it places that program under the Department of Agriculture, not the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Hmm... the fatal flaw in that bill seems clear from the get-go.

The first six offerings from the House should not raise much ire, other than that sneaky HB 1003 business of cutting the municipalities' piece of the action. The first three Senate Bills, however, may bring storms of debate and lobbying, as they all three deal with issues of major import for numerous groups in South Dakota.