SD House narrowly passes Brand Board election bill |

SD House narrowly passes Brand Board election bill

In a 36 to 33 vote, the House approved House Bill 1201 would create a process for South Dakota ranchers to elect representatives to the South Dakota Brand Board.

The bill will now move to the Senate for discussion.

The House membership approved an amendment to add two former Brand Board members as nonvoting advisory members of the board, to help the new board members adjust and gain “institutional knowledge” of the system.

Existing statute calls for the governor to appoint the five-member board. The legislation, sponsored by District 27 Rep. Liz May of Kyle, South Dakota, would create a seven member board, including five west river representatives, one east river representative and one reservation representative.

May, a rancher and grocery store owner, urged her fellow house members to support the bill, which she believes will make the brand board more responsive to cattle producers who pay the brand inspection fee and brand registration fees.

“Two or three years ago the brand board came before this body and they wanted to raise the fees on brand inspection. And the producers, they didn’t care for it, but they were promised at the time because these problems were ongoing, that if they just stood down and didn’t fight the fee increase, that things would change. And I’m here to tell you, not only did things not change, but they’ve gotten worse.  How do we fix this? To me, until we have board members that are elected and are responsive to the people they represent, just like all of us, nothing’s going to change,” said May in testimony on the house floor.

Elected representative will do a better job because they will be held accountable by the people they represent, said May.

“Think about the producers on the reservation. They have a problem, too. They fall between the cracks…I’m thinking of one in particular who lost 30 head of cattle last year. They have nowhere to go…” she said.

May emphasized that the current members of the Brand Board are friends of hers and that this is not a personal attack on those individuals, but an effort to improve accountability as a whole.

May also pointed out that the brand program is self-funded and that producers “realize there is a cost associated” with an election and “they will pay it.”

Brand inspection is “broken” and the board needs to be more attentive to problems, said May.

Representative Cammack, District 29, said the brand inspection program is important, especially in “big country.”

He talked about the generations on his ranch, and reported that his family utilized 6 different brands.

Cammack said there is complications due to individuals under 18 years of age owning brands, and brands being owned by more than one individual. “The problem we’ve got is how do you sort all this stuff out? You want one vote for one brand, but in some cases individuals own more than one brand,” he said. Getting a voter list is “no small feat,” he said and believes it would require an additional full time employee in the brand board office, and an additional $30,000, for a total of around $80,000 the first year. In subsequent years, the system would require one or two members to be elected per year for a significant reduction in cost. He believes the proposal would require “additional fees.”

The current brand board has done a “really nice job,” said Cammack.

He commented that the program inspected fewer cattle this year due to lower cattle numbers.

Cammack also said that the current Brand Board director told him that no salebarn representative has evercalled her with a concern and that a brand board member told him he’s only had one call from a salebarn representative in four years.  May refuted this, saying she’s talked to several salebarns and knows that is not true. “I know that the director has been contacted by livestock barns.”

Representative Will Mortenson, District 24, said not all brand owners should be allowed to vote because some people who own brands don’t own cattle.

“Where is this going? Are we going to start electing every constituent board? What precedent are we setting?” he asked.

“For decades there has been political fighting and I don’t think we need to move this to a more political system,” Mortenson said. “I’m not saying this is perfectly administered but I think there are internal issues we can address,” he said.

Representative Drew Peterson, District 19 also believes this is “further politicizing” the brand board.

Representative Overweg, District 21, explained that western South Dakota producers don’t have to brand cattle, but they do have to have them inspected.

“There are some problems, do I think they can work it out? …the only thing I’ll say is this, the people who are against this have no other idea. It’s just business as usual, and it’s really not working. They have problems. I hear from so many people, salebarn owners, they are just not happy. It’s just not working,” he said. “I just want you to realize there is a problem,” he said.

Representative Chase, District 22, said he’s frustrated things haven’t changed or improved in the past years. But he wants to stay with the current system and “see” if things change.

May was asked if she would commit to working with “all parties involved” such as the Cattlemen’s, Farm Bureau, Farmers Union and the current brand board. She responded “yes, I do.”

Rep. Lesmeister, District 28A, said “we have to keep working at this. There are issues out there…and I want something to change on this,” he said.