Legislative session produces multiple wins for biotech industry priorities

South Dakota Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree will join South Dakota Biotech lobbyist Drew Duncan, partner in The Duncan Law Firm LLP, for the April 11 event at 7:45 a.m. at Minnehaha Country Club. Virtual attendance also is an option. 

“We take an active role in policymaking related to the biotech industry, and this is a great way to learn more about the developments of the recent legislative session,” South Dakota Biotech executive director Joni Ekstrum said.

We sat down with Drew Duncan for a look at the recently completed session and what’s next for the industry’s priorities. 

Overall, how would you rate this legislative session in terms of the success of priorities key to the biotech industry?

Generally speaking, the session was a success for most business groups, including South Dakota Biotech. The priorities of South Dakota Biotech align fairly closely with the general business community and higher education, and those two sectors had a successful legislative session with everything from tax relief to ensuring there’s quality infrastructure at the higher education level to ensure students are trained for careers supported by the biotech industry.

What were some of the sessions wins as well as any disappointments?

I think the biggest win for the sector was HB 1135, which dealt with pharmacy benefit management reform. That legislation is a win for everyone from your local pharmacy all the way up to the manufacturers that belong to South Dakota Biotech, and it involves regulation and transparency related to the activities of pharmacy benefit managers in the state. We’re hopeful it will provide help to everyone from the public, which pays for pharmaceuticals, up to the companies that make up membership in South Dakota Biotech. Additionally, multiple bills related to immunization were defeated, which was successful for the biotech industry and its priorities around human health and science. I wouldn’t necessarily say the sector had any big misses this session, but watching the disconnect between the Legislature/ag groups and the governor’s office on some of the agriculture issues was a disappointment.

Several of the bills the biotech industry was tracking in the session involved facility-related improvements that will benefit the sector. What are some of the key projects moving forward?

There are a number of infrastructure improvements ahead at SDSU, USD, DSU and South Dakota School of Mines that we consider huge wins for the biotech industry. We’re training the best and the brightest at our public universities, and we need innovation-focused facilities to continue to attract and retain those students. SDSU received continued funding for the bioproducts building as well as its dairy research and Extension farm. South Dakota Opportunity Scholarships were increased. Funding for the Sanford Underground Research Facility was appropriated to expand lab space. So across the state, we’re seeing investment in innovation-related infrastructure, combined with the funding last session for the USD Discovery District. Finishing these projects is a rising tide for all boats.

Other bills supported by the industry would seemingly support various workforce-related needs. What were some of the gains made there?

I think you have to start with the tuition freeze led by Will Mortensen and Casey Crabtree that makes South Dakota’s public universities very, very competitive for the next five to 10 years. That improves our competitiveness with neighboring states. Anything we can do to retain bright students in South Dakota who go to work for our companies or participate in research or intern while in school, that improves our advantage in keeping them here for their careers.

I think continuing to be smart about sales tax and positioning South Dakota as a low-tax state helps with workforce, as does the work around housing. We have $200 million being deployed into South Dakota in a revolving fashion to help ensure we have housing available not only in Sioux Falls and Rapid City but our smaller communities. We need to continue to look at increasing availability of multifamily and starter homes, step-up homes, all areas of housing. It’s a big deal for every sector.

Through the summer period and leading up to the next session, what are some of the priorities the industry plans to continue to advocate for in South Dakota?

The big issues continue to be higher education support, tax reform that encourages innovation and transparency. Additionally, agriculture is an important part of South Dakota Biotech. There’s a lot of innovation happening that centers around ag, so we continue to monitor issues that impact that sector such as foreign ownership of land.
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