Monthly Archives: February 2017

Fun story from Rep. Chase

A few weeks ago Rep. Roger Chase, R-Huron, brought one of his farm’s field pickups to the Capitol. A few ears of corn remained in the box. When he went outside one day, there were several geese feeding on the corn. He’s calling it “meals on wheels.”

Basin’s GM points to unclear future

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, headquartered in North Dakota, is the major supplier of electricity for rural customers in South Dakota. CEO and general manager Paul Sukut provides a candid analysis of the current and future challenges facing the co-op in the latest issue of Basin Today magazine. One of the questions he raises is whether coal has a future in Basin’s fuel mix. He says his answer is no but he adds there should be the discussion. It’s worth a read.

Does DiSanto-Russell-NRA pistol permit repeal have future?

It is no small feat to pass legislation through the state House of Representatives. It is even more of a feat to pass three bills through the House. That’s what Rep. Lynne DiSanto, R-Rapid City, accomplished this past week. House members voted 68-0 for her HB 1143 setting 16 as the minimum age to be charged with prostitution in South Dakota; it now heads to the Senate where the main sponsor is Republican Phil Jensen of Rapid City. DiSanto had to go through a rigorous debate on HB 1133 that would require schools to have policies for students with specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia; House members voted 50-18 to pass it along to the Senate, where Republican Lance Russell of Hot Springs is the top sponsor. It had several Democrats as House co-sponsors but the Senate co-sponsor list is strictly Republican. And then there’s DiSanto’s HB 1072 that would repeal the requirement to obtain a permit to carry a concealed pistol. The National Rifle Association wants this bill to pass, and it did in the House on a 37-30 vote. Russell had a similar measure that he asked the Senate to set aside after the DiSanto version cleared the House on Thursday.

Now it’s up to the Senate to decide whether DiSanto’s bill stays alive. Its top Senate sponsor is Russell. However, Gov. Dennis Daugaard has said he would use his veto to deter this bill from becoming law. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber of the Legislature. That threshold is 47 in the House. So far the bill has only 37. There was minimal Democratic support for the bill, meaning this is really a battle among the 60 House Republicans. Even their leadership split, with House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte and House speaker pro tem Don Haggar of Sioux Falls voting for it; and House Speaker Mark Mickelson of Sioux Falls and House Republican assistant leader Kent Peterson of Salem voting against it. For the next month, this bill will continue to find headlines. But unless someone has a plan that will change the minds of 10 House members and change their votes from nays on the bill to ayes on a veto override, this bill won’t become law.

A cheer for Stephanie

Taking off my objectivity cap for a moment, it’s worth celebrating the choice of Stephanie Herseth Sandlin as the new president for Augustana University in Sioux Falls. Just as I liked the selection some years ago of Jim Abbott as the president for the University of South Dakota, the selection of Herseth Sandlin means we have another top South Dakota person leading another top South Dakota institution of higher learning. Jim Abbott wanted to be a congressman and wanted to be governor, but as a Democrat didn’t get there. Stephanie Herseth wanted to be a congresswoman, and as a Democrat she did get there, from 2004 through 2010. Along the way she married another former congressman from Texas, Max Sandlin. Together they have a child and now they have one of the most prominent perches in Sioux Falls with her Augustana presidency. I don’t view this as some political career step. It’s a life step, of the best kind. It took another strong woman, Republican Kristi Noem, to beat Herseth Sandlin for the U.S. House seat. Now Noem is running for governor in 2018. Regardless of politics, it’s good to have two of South Dakota’s best in important positions.

Good help is good to keep

For 29 years Judy Wegner of Pierre has worked at the legislative sessions as the lobbyists’ receptionist. They pay her to work the telephone desk between the two legislative chambers at the Capitol. She began when the Capitol still had pay phones and phone booths on the third floor. Even with cell phones today, there’s plenty to keep her busy. Her favorite part of the job: Less ice fishing.


A three-hoghouse morning

Hit a legislative reporter’s trifecta Wednesday morning! The House State Affairs Committee in the finest fashion of bipartisanship accepted not one but three major rewrites of legislation — a process known as a hoghouse in legislative lingo — and passed all three with just one nay vote.

The committee unanimously endorsed the state government accountability board that Rep. Karen Soli, D-Sioux Falls, proposed in revised fashion after consulting with legislative leaders, constitutional officers and retired judges in the Legislature. Her measure HB 1076 now would be a panel of four retired judges or justices who would receive complaints of wrong-doing. She had the support of the governor and Attorney General Marty Jackley. Based on the reception Wednesday, and the significant bipartisan backing of House leaders, Soli’s measure should cruise through the House of Representatives. Her main sponsor in the other chamber is Senate president pro tem Brock Greenfield of Clark. The only criticism Wednesday came from IM 22 pitchman Doug Kronaizl who said it wasn’t good enough. House Democratic leader Spencer Hawley of Brookings pointed out that Soli’s board can cover topics that the IM 22 campaign ethics commission wouldn’t have.

Rep. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, next amended his transparency and accountability legislation, HB 1089, so that it didn’t overlap with Soli’s bill regarding the executive branch. Instead it would focus on the legislative branch and other elected officials. It received unanimous support from the committee. Kronaizl stayed in his chair, texting, rather than testify about it. It likely will cruise through the House, too. His main sponsor in the other chamber is Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford.

The big surprise of the morning came from House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte. He wants to shift $7 million from agricultural property relief into a special fund for agricultural projects. The money could cover $3 million-plus of annual bond payments for funding the proposed animal disease laboratory at South Dakota State University. The Qualm plan gets Gov. Dennis Daugaard off the hook; the governor had proposed raising a long list of agricultural fees that agricultural groups weren’t willing to accept. Qualm’s revised bill, HB 1157, has the clear support of the governor and of agricultural groups. It won the committee’s endorsement 11-1.


State Board of Education gets new member

If the governor’s office or the state Department of Education issued a news release, I confess to missing it. I noticed it in a Senate journal that reported the governor had sent a letter informing legislators about the appointment.

Lori Wagner of Webster has been appointed to the state Board of Education by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. She is a long-time and top-notch mathematics teacher in first Waubay and for the past decade Webster.

The former South Dakota teacher of the year finalist succeeds Kelly Duncan, the dean of education at Northern State University. Duncan served since November 1996. Her most recent term expired Dec. 31, 2016. She was the second-longest serving member of the current board.

The two other long-time members are Marilyn Hoyt of Huron and Glenna Fouberg of Aberdeen. They have served, respectively, since April 1995 and January 1998. Their current terms expire Dec. 31, 2017.

Lori Wagner becomes the fifth new member appointed to the nine-person board since November 2015.

The turnover came amid conflict of interest requirements in the wake of the GEAR UP scandal involving Mid Central Educational Cooperative and the deaths of the six members of the Westerhuis family at Platte.

Duncan, formerly of Vermillion, received contract payments through Mid Central before receiving the Northern State post and helped oversee a paid review of the Gear Up program for the state Department of Education. The contracts came while she was on the state board.

State officials ultimately transferred Gear Up’s management from Mid Central to Black Hills State University during the past year. Mid Central will be disbanded this year by its member school districts and replaced by a new regional cooperative.

Three former Mid-Central officials face felony criminal charges, including Stacy Phelps of Rapid City, who ran the Gear Up program. He resigned from the state Board of Education in 2015 as the allegations came to light.

Gear Up is a federally funded program, channeled through the state Department of Education, intended to help make aware students and their parents from lower-income households about the possibility of post-high school education.

Some of the marijuana legislation advances

This turned out to be the week for marijuana-related bills to be heard for the first time in the 2017 legislative session. Two out of three remain active.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a cannabidiol exception (SB 95) sought by Senate Republican leader Blake Curd of Sioux Falls for medical purposes and killed a medical marijuana exemption (SB 157) brought by Sen. Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, that would have recognized valid medical exceptions granted by other states.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee endorsed legalization of industrial hemp HB 1204; the committee sponsored the measure.

The hemp bill is now on the House calendar and could be debated any day but it is at the bottom. The cannabidiol bill is at the top of the Senate calendar for debate Tuesday.

Who might be the next justice? (w/update)

The decision by Justice Lori Wilbur to step down from the South Dakota Supreme Court , effective in June, provides Gov. Dennis Daugaard with another opportunity to shape the court system. He appointed Wilbur in 2011. She had been a circuit judge based in Pierre since 1999 and she succeeded Justice Judith Meierhenry on the high court.

The Supreme Court’s legal position of late has been that a justice should come from the area she or he would represent. The five-justice court has five districts. The Supreme Court districts don’t geographically align with the seven circuit court districts. So there can be some unusual matching. The Judicial Qualifications Commission will accept applications for the vacancy and submit at least two names to the governor. He can choose from those names or ask for a set of new names to consider. Wilbur at one point in her judicial career served on the commission.

Justice Wilbur represents the Supreme Court’s fourth district. It includes the counties of Aurora, Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Gregory, Hanson, Hutchinson, Lincoln, McCook, Turner, Union, and Yankton. Those counties are in three judicial circuits. Presuming the next justice will have circuit judge experience — that is the case for all five current justices — and presuming the high court’s policy is followed, the next justice presumably would come from one of the circuit judges in those 14 counties.

In 2009, Circuit Judge Mark Barnett of Pierre withdrew his application for a Supreme Court appointment to represent the second district, which is Minnehaha County and part of Lincoln County. Barnett didn’t want to move to the Sioux Falls area while his application was pending.

UPDATE: In response to the comment from Casual Observer, I offer this from the South Dakota Constitution’s article on the courts:

§ 6. Qualifications of judicial personnel. Justices of the Supreme Court, judges of the circuit courts and persons presiding over courts of limited jurisdiction must be citizens of the United States, residents of the state of South Dakota and voting residents within the district, circuit or jurisdiction from which they are elected or appointed. No Supreme Court justice shall be deemed to have lost his voting residence in a district by reason of his removal to the seat of government in the discharge of his official duties. Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of circuit courts must be licensed to practice law in the state of South Dakota.


Senate, in a surprise, OKs midwives legislation

Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, thanked Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, after the state Senate voted 29-6 Wednesday for legislation that would establish a certification system for midwives and create a professional midwives board within the state Department of Health. The legislation now heads to the House. Last year the Senate rejected a somewhat similar bill after the House had passed it by a solid margin. Soholt, a registered nurse, changed from an opponent to a supporter this year. Greenfield was the prime sponsor of the bill.