Have Stockgrowers beaten Daugaard administration?

The word we’re picking up this morning in the Capitol’s halls and in the Senate chamber’s aisles is the Senate will kill the Brand Board’s two bills this afternoon. One bill sought to allow the board to impose a local inspection fee of up to $25 to cover the additional time and mileage to send an inspector to a ranch or other special location rather than inspect livestock for ownership at the West River sale barns. The other bill would eliminate the board’s requirement to conduct horse and mule ownership inspections west of the Missouri River. The two bills are being fought against¬†fiercely at the grassroots level by the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association. The Senate delayed debates that were scheduled Friday and again Monday. The Daugaard administration has pushed hard for passage of the measures, going so far as to send three witnesses — governor’s policy advisor Nathan Sanderson, a Department of Agriculture staff member and Brand Board executive director Larry Stearns — to testify at the Senate committee hearing last week.

So what’s the other shoe yet to drop? Horse and mule inspections cost, on average, more than twice as much to perform as the Brand Board receives from the 90-cent inspection fee. Local inspections likewise cost much more than is returned from the 90-cent fee. The Brand Board can make an argument in favor of raising the fee. That can be done by the board after a rules hearing, with the final decision then up to the six lawmakers who sit on the Legislature’s rules review committee. The Rounds administration succeeded in getting the Brand Board to stop contracting with the Stockgrowers and move the inspection program within the Department of Agriculture. There has now been a decade of tension involving the Stockgrowers. Last year there appeared to be a deal supporting the local-inspection charge, but the Stockgrowers later changed their position and favored an additional nickel charged on every head rather than charging only the ranchers wanting local inspections. The Stockgrowers detailed that change of position during the bills hearing last week. The Stockgrowers also opposed eliminating the horse and mule inspections. The likely spin now will be that the additional dime, rumored to be contemplated by the Daugaard administration, is the only choice left if the bills are killed today. The bumper sticker message then becomes “don’t blame us, blame the Stockgrowers.”

This feud seems destined to become worse and might not ever get better. As I write this, the immediate battle is unfolding as lobbyists and ranchers work the Senate desks. (I am subsequently told they are working another bill.)