Monthly Archives: January 2014

A new requirement regarding abortions

South Dakota law already requires that pregnant women visit a state-authorized help center before receiving an abortion. The existing law further prohibits those help centers from providing abortions. Now there is a new piece of legislation that would add another requirement. It would prohibit help centers from providing adoption placements. Rep. Scott Ecklund, R-Brandon, is prime sponsor of HB 1180. The lead sponsor in the Senate is Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen. The entire list of co-sponsors appears to be strongly or perhaps entirely opponents of legalized abortion. This bill deals with a tangent that hasn’t been prominent in past legislative debates about abortion restrictions.

Meanwhile Rep. Jenna Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, has introduced legislation to ban abortions that are based on sex choice. That bill is HB 1162. Its lead Senate sponsor is Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center. The bill aims at the medical people who would provide the abortion and exempts the woman from the Class 6 felony penalty. Altogether there are 37 House members and 19 senators whose names are on the bill.

Adding $1 tax per $1,000 of taxable value for roads

County commissions would get the authority to levy an additional tax for highways, secondary roads, bridges and culverts under legislation that Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, has introduced. The measure is SB 117. The legislation sets a limit of $1 tax per $1,000 of taxable value. The state’s restrictions on county budgets wouldn’t apply. Senate co-sponsors are Democrats Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge and Chuck Welke of Warner and Republican Al Novstrup of Aberdeen. The House lead sponsor, if the bill makes it out of the Senate, is Rep. Ann Hajek, R-Sioux Falls. Other House co-sponsors are Democrats Dennis Feickert of Aberdeen, Jim Peterson of Revillo and Susan Wismer of Britton, and Republicans David Novstrup of Aberdeen and Burt Tulson of Lake Norden. Those names say a lot about where there are rural roads that need work.

Forcing a debate on EB5

Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, wants the Legislature to ban state government’s involvement in the EB5 immigrant-investor program. He’s filed HB 1176, which would ban any state agency or official or subdivision of state government from participation or contracting in the federal program. A handful of Republicans and Democrats are co-sponsors, but none of them carries the kind of muscle needed to push something like this to the desk of Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Having Nelson as prime sponsor doesn’t help in any way. Now in his fourth year as a legislator, his history of behavior has worn out his welcome in the House, and his current candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate undercuts this effort, regardless of the sincerity among the other 11 representatives and senators whose names are on the sponsor list.  The most obvious argument against this bill is EB5’s further use has been stopped. The Daugaard administration pulled the plug, voluntarily, on state government’s participation in EB 5 last autumn, before anyone in the Legislature or the general public knew about the scandal that would begin to unfold upon the Oct. 20 death of Richard Benda. Legislators will be receiving reports today from the two reviews by private accounting firms regarding the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Yet to come is the report from the Department of Legislative Audit that looks specifically at GOED and EB5. These were voluntarily ordered in November by GOED Commissioner Pat Costello. The Legislature will conduct its own analysis of those three sets of findings and decide upon a course of action. The Nelson bill would preempt that process. None of the eight leaders and assistant leaders of the House and Senate Democratic and Republican caucuses is on the Nelson bill. For such a sensitive and important topic, that is telling.

Confirmation Day in state Senate

The Senate today takes up six new appointments, two re-appointments and one quasi-new appointment by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Among them are two new Cabinet members: Agriculture Secretary Lucas Lentsch and Labor and Regulation Secretary Marcia Hultman. There are three folks on the state Board of Regents, whose members govern the state universities: Kevin Schieffer of Sioux Falls, Bob Sutton of Pierre and SDSU student Joseph Schartz. There also is new Lottery Commission member Jim Towler of Dakota Dunes. Two members of the state Board of Education were reappointed: Glenna Fouberg of Aberdeen and Marilyn  Hoyt of Huron. The quasi-new appointee is Ron Wheeler, who previously was executive director for the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, which oversees operations of the Sanford underground science and engineering laboratory at the old Homestake gold mine; now Wheeler is a member of the authority. Each of the nine requires debate and a roll-call vote, so the Senate calendar for this afternoon is otherwise mighty short.

Dispute resolved on fiscal impact statements

The Legislature’s joint committee on legislative procedure met this afternoon (Tuesday) to decide how to handle the fiscal impact statements now required for any criminal-sentencing legislation (or ballot initiative) that affects the populations of county jails and state prisons. The vote was 13-0 to have the Legislative Research Council staff take the lead preparing them, in consultation with the Bureau of Finance and Management and the Department of Corrections. The various sides — Legislature, executive branch and judicial branch — sent representatives to a meeting Friday afternoon. SB 70 last year added the requirement for fiscal impact statements, also known as incarceration statements. The law said either LRC or BFM could prepare the statements. Legislation can’t be officially introduced without a statement attached. There are 20 requests so far this session. “I think we are feeling good about where the process came out,” LRC interim director Fred Schoenfeld said. The procedure committee adopted a related rule this afternoon to require fiscal impact statements accompany any proposed amendments. “People know up front,” Senate Republican leader Tim Rave of Baltic said.

Legislators want Common Core halted — in three years

House Concurrent Resolution 1008 comes to the 2014 session of the Legislature from Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton. While it has no legal effect, it is a statement of legislators’ wishes that the state Board of Education refrain from expanding Common Core standards in South Dakota or using any other multi-state standards. Further, it calls for the board to establish a plan to end South Dakota’s involvement with Common Core no later than June 30, 2017. There are 20 House members and three senators who have signed their names to its sponsor list.

Bottom drops out of voter registrations

Holy cow. A lot of purging of voter-registration rolls happened in county courthouses during December. The numbers fell sharply for Republicans, Democrats and independents. That continued a trend of big declines throughout 2013.

Let’s start with Republicans. In January 2013, they numbered 244,111. In December, they were down to 238,628. The Jan. 15, 2014, count compiled by the secretary of state’s office has them at 234,750. That’s a drop of more than 9,000 in 12 months.

Now for the Democrats. They were at 190,212 in January 2013. By December, they were down to 181,511. The Jan. 15, 2014, total was 176,735. That’s a loss of more than 13,000 in 12 months.

Then there are the independents. They totaled 95,846 in January 2013. By December, they were “down” to 97,357 — “down” because they actually had peaked at 100,670 in October. They were indeed down, in the truest sense, to 94,793 as of Jan. 15, 2014.

Constitutionalists gained slightly, from 353 in January 2013 to 386 this January. Libertarians increased too, from 1,165 in January 2013 to 1,241 as of Jan. 15, although they did get as high as 1,292 in November.

For the Democrats, this is just one more monthly installment of bad news. At 176,735, their registrations are down to the 1994 level, when there were 176,881 Democrats on the books for the general election. You have to expect Democrats to mount voter registration drives later this year to get their numbers up. But trailing Republicans by about 58,000 voters is a gap that requires a miracle to close.

All three District 31incumbents are in the chutes

Lawrence County has the distinction of being No. 1 — as in the first legislative district to have a full slate of candidates on at least one side of the 2014 ballot. District 31’s three Republican incumbents have filed their candidacy petitions. They are Sen. Bob Ewing of Spearfish, Rep. Timothy Johns of Lead and the long-timer of the group, Rep. Fred Romkema of Spearfish. Ewing, 59, and Johns,65, are seeking second terms, while Romkema, 66, is going for his fourth in a row in the House. There are no other candidates yet for legislative seats from the one-county district.

Unknown sources that pay for polling places

The death of SB 33 last week at the hands of the Senate Local Government Committee leaves a black hole in South Dakota election laws. The committee rejected legislation brought by Secretary of State Jason Gant and the state Board of Elections that would have allowed only government sources of funding to pay for the administration of elections. It would have blocked further activities by the Four Directions organization, which has paid for polling places in several recent elections, including in 2012 when polling places were added in reservation areas of Dewey and Buffalo counties to accommodate more American Indian citizens. Committee members asked good questions, including who are the sources of Four Directions’ money. The answer was tribes outside South Dakota. They weren’t specifically identified, and there wasn’t an answer regarding the amounts.

If the activity is allowed to continue, those questions should be answered, whether by this organization or any other that offers money to a county government or municipal government to influence the numbers or locations of polling places, including early voting centers that can handle absentee ballots. Perhaps there have been records filed and this graying scribe lacks the technological capability to locate them, but I couldn’t find any record of Four Directions in the secretary of state’s campaign-finance data base or the office’s corporations data base. The Four Directions website lists its location as Chamberlain, but there isn’t any additional information disclosed.

Resurrecting SB 33 and amending it to require public reporting of all contributions received by an election-administration organization and all payments made by such an organization would be an important step in bringing public transparency to this election-influencing activity.

NOTE: This post originally referred to SB 32. The correct bill number is SB 33.

There’s a little (?) mess brewing over 2013’s SB 70

First, commit this phrase to memory: “Criminal justice fiscal impact statements.” The details are elusive but these fiscal impact statements seem to be why the Legislative Research Council has been overwhelmed by additional work in recent days. So overwhelmed, in fact, that LRC’s normal work of bill drafting for legislators has been severely affected. The red flag tipped into view on Friday when the Senate voted to suspend its rules and extend the deadline for unlimited bill introduction to Friday, Jan. 31. This two-day extension is to allow the LRC staff additional time to clear the backlog of bill drafts waiting to be completed. The House of Representatives didn’t extend its deadline (perhaps that is yet to come). That the House and the Senate might be on different paths of thought on this matter came into view when Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, in his role as Senate president, told the senators Friday afternoon that the Senate would proceed with the deadline extension regardless of what the House does. This might all sound like inside politics, and maybe it is… and maybe it isn’t. There’s much more to this story, according to sources.

It all goes back to “criminal justice fiscal impact statements.” These are required as the result of a 2013 set of laws that greatly changed South Dakota’s judicial system regarding criminal sentences. The 2013 legislation, SB 70, specifically mandated the fiscal impact statements. This was down in Section 71, where it says the fiscal impact statement is required for any ballot measure dealing with criminal sentences or any legislation (including amendments) dealing with criminal sentences or other matters “that may impact state prison or county jail populations.” The fiscal impact statements must be completed by the LRC or the governor’s Bureau of Finance and Management before a piece of legislation is introduced. I don’t have facts yet on how many of these statements have been completed or are pending with LRC and / or BFM. But it is my understanding that questions have arisen outside of public discussion about accuracy and about whether the fiscal impact statements could be used to make a piece of legislation more acceptable or less acceptable. In other words, a fiscal impact statement could be manipulated to make a bill more likely to fail, if that’s what someone in a position of influence wanted, or more likely to pass, if that’s what someone in a position of influence wanted. BFM works for the governor; LRC works for the Legislature. The related questions then become: What if legislators don’t agree with the results of a BFM fiscal impact statement, and what if the executive branch doesn’t agree with the results of a LRC fiscal impact statement?

There’s another interesting catch in the laws created by passage of SB 70 from last year. That can be found in Section 72 of the 2013 bill, where the factors are set out for analyzing the fiscal impacts, and in Section 73 of the 2013 bill, where it requires BFM to analyze proposed legislation using those factors. This seems like a smart requirement because then legislators will understand that tougher or weaker sentences and changes in felonies and misdemeanors have price tags. How the analysis is performed by BFM is outside the control of the Legislature, however, and it’s the Legislature that has to trust BFM — or turn to LRC for its analysis. You can see how the normal flow of bill drafting can suddenly be disrupted by these new requirements, because they come with a price tag, too, of additional hours of work on every bill that “may” affect the prisons and jails.

There was a hint of the immense friction building between the Capitol’s second and third floors — the governor’s offices and the Legislature, respectively — last week. The Jan. 22 agenda for the Legislative Procedure Committee, a joint gathering of select senators and representatives who hash out the rules, had the topic “Discussion of procedures relative to criminal justice fiscal impact statements.” The discussion on that point was short. Basically, it was decided, there would be another meeting on that topic. Representing the governor’s office on the matter was legal counsel Jim Seward. For a while, it appeared the committee was going to meet the next day. But that was scrapped. Now there is an agenda for a Tuesday, Jan. 28, meeting of the Legislative Procedure Committee. The topic of the fiscal impact statements leads the agenda.The other item on the Jan. 28 agenda is “Discussion of amendment or clarification of Joint Rules.” That’s another intriguing point. Tuesday is legislative working day 9 of the 38-day session. The Legislature hasn’t yet adopted its rules for the 2014 session. Instead lawmakers are operating under an extension of the 2013 rules, with amendments to accommodate various matters already decided about how the 2014 session should operate. The difficulties resolving the issues involving the fiscal impact statements are a reason — perhaps the only reason — the 2014 rules aren’t adopted.

Don’t interpret all of this as chaos. But you can interpret it as some divisions deepening between the second and third floors. If we’ve learned anything about this current bunch of legislative leaders in the past 12 months, they aren’t interested in bowing to the wishes of others — and they also aren’t interested in being played. As we sometimes say in this space, stay tuned.