Monthly Archives: December 2011

The PUC decision cometh

On Tuesday, Jan. 3, the state Public Utilities Commission will select a new chair from its three members. The senior, and only remaining elected, member is Gary Hanson, who’s been on the commission since his 2002 election. A Republican, he has been chairman for the past year after the then-chair, Democrat Steve Kolbeck, resigned his seat two years early to take a job in the private sector rather than face re-election in 2012. The two other current commissioners, both Republicans, are both appointees of Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Chris Nelson, the former secretary of state, was appointed when Dusty Johnson took the governor’s office to be his chief of staff rather than serve the second term to which he had been elected in November 2010. Kristie Fiegen, a former state legislator, was appointed to the Kolbeck vacancy. The PUC’s off-and-on tradition had been to select as chairman the commissioner who was next up for election, regardless of political party; the commission’s three seats rotate on six-year terms. With Nelson and Fiegen both up in 2012, and both having one year of experience, the decision Tuesday will be interesting. Twelve months ago, before Fiegen was appointed, Nelson nominated Hanson; Nelson in turn became vice chairman. There don’t appear to be any rivalries among the three commissioners, and Hanson has clearly been effective in his times as chairman. Hanson next faces re-election, if he chooses to run, in 2014. Fiegen is running for a new six-year term that would end in 2018, while Nelson is running for the four years remaining on the Johnson term which ends in 2016.

Governor makes some appointments

Gov. Dennis Daugaard named Larry Weiss of Pierre to the state Board of Military Affairs, succeeding Don Rounds of Pierre. The governor also reappointed three members of the State Conservation Commission. They are former state Rep. Tom Glover of Burke, David Fischbach of Faith and Alan Vedvei of Lake Preston.

Today’s word: Baklava

A Christmas angel visited our front door last evening bearing a gift that must have come from heaven. The seven pieces of baklava now number five after coffee this morning.

Dust storms on the day after Christmas

Visibility was poor Monday afternoon in the Aberdeen area and at spots along the highways between the Hub City and Pierre because of blowing dirt. This long dry spell could mean trouble come the 2012 growing season.

Are farm wineries a service for motorists?

The state Transportation Commission gets to decide next month whether farm wineries should be considered just as essential for motorists traveling South Dakota highways as are gas, food, lodging and camping. The commission holds a public hearing Jan. 26, starting at 9:05 am CT, at the DOT building in Pierre on that question. Currently state regulations allow informational direction panels to be at intersections or interchanges on state highways to show the proximity of gas, food, lodging and camping. Farm wineries would be added to that list. The existing regulations allow one panel and one supplemental panel, with up to six businesses on each panel. Farm wineries would be allowed to be among the six/twelve. A grape cluster would be the new logo. The wineries would need to be licensed and continuously open for business at least five days per week from May 1 to Oct. 31 inclusive. Wine must be offered for sale and produced on the premises. There isn’t any requirement within the proposed rules regarding how much of the juice must be produced from fruit grown in South Dakota.

In other recent news involving highways and alcohol, the South Dakota Supreme Court this week upheld the life sentence without parole for a man whose eighth drunk-driving conviction resulted from the same incident in which another motorist was killed, as the result of a collision during a high-speed chase through Sioux Falls in 2009. The Supreme Court justices in their unanimous opinion said incarceration seemed to be the only way to keep Jason Larsen-Smith away from alcohol and motor vehicles. Larsen-Smith, who was raised by grandparents after his mother was killed by a drunk driver, was 31 at the time of the 2009 fatal crash that killed a man the court said was totally innocent. Larsen-Smith had been convicted of DUI seven previous times, starting at age 18, and was first incarcerated in state prison in 1999. Since then he hadn’t spent more than 10 consecutive months when he wasn’t incarcerated. He violated parole each of the six times he was released. The justices said nothing in his history gives any hint that rehabilitation would work this time. The family of the victim meanwhile had to sell their home. “Incarceration is the only thing that has successfully prevented Larsen-Smith from drinking and driving. His history proves that the interests of society demand the sentence imposed,” the court said.

Virtual meetings must bow to a running clock

Twice this week, state government bodies have held public meetings that relied on telecommunications to connect all of the participants. We don’t know the actual amount of money that was saved (this would make a good study for the Legislature…) but there’s no doubt about the highway time saved by not traveling to Pierre. Trouble is, whether using the Dakota Digital Network for a video-conference meeting or the state government telephone bridge for a conference call, a certain amount of time has to be scheduled — which means the meeting needs to be done within that schedule. That wasn’t easy for the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee or the State Railroad Board.

None of the six legislators came to Pierre. Instead they were at DDN sites throughout South Dakota, while two Legislative Research Council staff manned the main site at the state Capitol. People who testified were at Pierre and other locations. The committee had an unusually long agenda, and progress was excruciatingly slow during the morning half of the meeting Tuesday. With two-thirds of the agenda yet to be completed in the afternoon, and the DDN availability scheduled to expire at 5 p.m., the committee members took only a 30-minute lunch break. True to the word of the chair, Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, the committee got the work done in time. Let’s just say the frequency of questions diminished after the lunch break.

The rail board wasn’t so fortunate. Scheduled for a two-hour meeting over the lunch hour, the board was supposed to wrap up at 1 p.m. Wednesday. Six board members were at the state Department of Transportation’s conference room, but a seventh member participated by teleconference, as did two other interested parties. One o’clock came and went without the board even close to completing the matters on the agenda. DOT staff arranged for an extension of the teleconference to 2 p.m. The automated operator provided count-down warnings that the call would expire in so many minutes. DOT staff began making new arrangements to have some participants call the room’s telephone and for a board member to call through another board member’s cell phone — perched atop a Styrofoam cup next to a microphone. The meeting then ran for another two hours. No baling wire was needed.

Insurance fight alert! HB 1004

Would it still be a legislative session without some sort of battle within the insurance sector? South Dakota lawmakers will be pressed into deciding during the 2012 session whether non-compete clauses for insurance producers should stay at a maximum of two years or be reduced to one year. The legislation, House Bill 1004, has been pre-filed by Rep. Frank Kloucek, D-Scotland. It would also change the general limit on non-compete clauses to one year from the current two years.

FSST seeks to stay up with Larchwood

The new gambling casino at Larchwood, Iowa, has prompted a state rules change in South Dakota to help Royal River casino operated by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. Royal River officials want to offer at Flandreau a form of poker called Pai Gow that is popular in Asian casinos; Larchwood already is offering Pai Gow. Deadwood casinos aren’t seeking Pai Gow authorization, but state-tribal gambling compacts limit tribal casinos to only those games authorized for Deadwood casinos. Consequently the state Commission on Gaming is changing its rules to allow Pai Gow. The Legislature’s rules review committee gave its final approval just moments ago. They’re also a new side-bet that will be allowed at Deadwood’s blackjack tables called dealer bust. A player will be able to make an additional bet that the dealer will draw 22 or higher. Even if the player busts, the player’s side bet on a dealer bust remains intact. The maximum bet on anything in Deadwood and tribal casinos in South Dakota is $100.

DSU interim president will work at least 16 months

The South Dakota Board of Regents outlined today its process for finding a successor to Doug Knowlton, whose last day as Dakota State University president is scheduled for Feb. 10. After eight years as DSU’s head, Knowlton is leaving to be the vice chancellor for academic and student affairs for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. The regents plan to announce an interim president who will start duties on Feb. 1. From there, the board at its June meeting will announce members of a search and screen committee; the panel’s members will include community members from Madison and from the DSU staff. The search process will officially commence in October, with a timetable calling for appointment of the next president in May 2013, assuming a suitable candidate is found and accepts the job. Regents’ executive director Jack Warner said the schedule is an attempt for the search to coincide with the time when candidates most likely would be available prior to the fall term.