All seven major U.S. Senate candidates have turned in nominating petitions by today’s deadline, though two have yet to be certified by Secretary of State Jason Gant.
Candidates had to turn in their nominating petitions to Gant’s office in Pierre by 5 p.m. Tuesday – or sent them through the United States Post Office as registered mail by 5 p.m.
As of early evening Tuesday, Gant had certified the petitions of Democrat Rick Weiland, Republicans Stace Nelson, Larry Rhoden and Mike Rounds, and independent Larry Pressler. Republicans Annette Bosworth and Jason Ravnsborg turned in their petitions Tuesday afternoon, but Gant’s staff had yet to verify that they contained enough valid signatures.
In other races, both parties will now officially face primaries for governor. Incumbent Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who formally announced his reelection bid Tuesday, will face former state lawmaker Lora Hubbel in the GOP primary, while state Rep. Susan Wismer and former state wildfire chief Joe Lowe will battle in the Democratic primary.
As of Tuesday evening, independent gubernatorial candidate Mike Myers hadn’t had his nominating petitions confirmed. Constitution Party gubernatorial candidate Curtis Strong said in an email that he had filed his required petitions.
In the U.S. House race, both incumbent Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Corinna Robinson have qualified for the ballot.
Jon Schaff, a political scientist at Northern State University in Aberdeen, said getting enough petitions to get on the ballot – between 1,000 and 2,000, depending on the party and the race – is a simple but important test of a candidate’s organization.
“Part of what makes an operation like this credible is, can you do what is essentially a very basic task, which is get petitions signed,” Schaff said.
In state legislative races, Republicans continued their trend of contesting more seats across the state – though as of Tuesday evening neither party had candidates for every seat.
Democrats are running for 20 of the 35 seats in the state Senate, and 49 of the 70 seats in the state House. Republicans have candidates in 30 of 35 Senate races, and for 61 of 70 House seats.
More candidates are expected to be added to the ballot in coming days, as more petitions come in through registered mail.
Republicans also have more primary battles for state Legislature. They have more candidates than there are seats in four Senate races and nine House races, compared to one and four, respectively, for the Democrats.
Schaff said Democrats are starting at a disadvantage by not fielding candidates in more races.
“They’re conceding to Republicans roughly one-third of the legislature,” Schaff said. “It’s just like in a football game, you can’t spot the other team two touchdowns and expect to win. That’s essentially what’s happening.”
Nielson Brothers Polling has released the second part of their Sioux Falls municipal poll, in which they show incumbent Mayor Mike Huether with a moderate 48-36 lead over challenger Greg Jamison.
I’m still waiting on the full question order and crosstabs from the poll, though it does raise an eyebrow that the poll appears to have asked respondents’ opinion about the direction of the city and the two candidates and city council before asking about the head-to-head matchup. Anything you ask respondents before a head-to-head question can influence how they’re thinking when the main question comes up.
Heuther, in the poll, has a slightly higher approval rating than Jamison (a lower-profile figure), but also higher disapproval. Subtracting “strongly disapprove” from “strongly approve,” Huether is +21 and Jamison is +17.
They also poll the at-large city council races, finding a dead heat in the Christine Erickson-Denny Pierson race, but a firm 34-20-7 lead for incumbent Rex Rolfing over Manny Steele and Emmett Reistroffer in the other at-large race — though both races had high levels of undecided voters.
NBP is still establishing its track record, so it’ll be interesting to see how this poll compares to the actual results.
The poll was conducted from March 18 to March 20, via automated push-button response, with between 500 and 600 registered voters responding to different questions.
UPDATE: Some very interesting tidbits in the crosstabs for the poll, which NBP gave me access to.
Here’s two, focusing on how voters break down by party affiliation and ideology.
NBP asked respondents whether they were a Democrat, Republican or an independent. Among Democrats, Huether (a Democrat) beats Jamison (a Republican) 61-27. Among Republicans, Jamison has a slender 44-40 lead. Huether leads among independents 42-32. (There were 238 Democrats, 251 Republicans and 80 independents.)
Respondents were also asked if they consider their ideas to be liberal (96 respondents), moderate (168), conservative (196), or aligned with the Tea Party (60).
Among liberals, Huether leads 65-16. He also leads moderates 54-33. The decisive factor is Huether combining that with a 45-37 lead among conservatives. Only among Tea Partiers does Jamison lead, 56-29.
All of that shows why the poll showed a lead for Huether — if Jamison is running as a Republican candidate, he has to do better than a 4-point lead among Republican voters.
I also scrolled down to look at the at large council races for one more tidbit. Overall, Rex Rolfing has a huge lead in the At Large A race, with 34 percent to 20 percent for Manny Steele and 7 percent for Emmett Reistroffer. If you look at the crosstabs by ideology, Rolfing has big leads among moderates and liberals, and a narrow lead among conservatives. But Steele wins Tea Party voters 38-25 — about what you’d expect, given Steele’s outspoken conservatism in the state Legislature.
It took to the deadline, but Democrats got their U.S. Senate candidate officially on the ballot. Rick Weiland was certified today for the upcoming election by Secretary of State Jason Gant after turning in around 3,000 signatures Monday — about three times what he needed.
Meanwhile, on the same day Gov. Dennis Daugaard formally announced his reelection bid, Daugaard officially got a primary challenger. Former state Rep. Lora Hubbel qualified for the ballot as well.
U.S. Senate candidate Jason Ravnsborg is apparently turning in his petitions today at 2 p.m.:
BREAKING! #JasonRavnsborg-R-SD will be at Sec. of State, Pierre, 2 p.m. turning in paperwork for U.S. SENATE RUN- PHOTO OP/Q&A
Ravnsborg’s signatures will still have to be verified and every now and then a statewide candidate falls through the cracks.
Several statewide candidates have yet to turn in their petitions, to the best of my knowledge. Three are in the gubernatorial race: Democrat Susan Wismer, independent Mike Myers and Constitution Party candidate Curtis Strong.
U.S. Senate candidate Annette Bosworth also has yet to report turning in her petitions.
Candidates have to turn in their petitions today, either in person at the Secretary of State’s office or by sending them via registered mail by the end of the day.
It can take several days for the Secretary of State to certify all the petitions coming in at and after the deadline — and longer if there’s a challenge.
On Sunday, stats guru Nate Silver came out with his initial projections for the 2014 U.S. Senate races. The news wasn’t great for Democrats; Silver said Republicans were “slight favorites” to win control of the Senate.
In an unusual step, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Monday issued a rebuttal [of] the famed statistician’s prediction—made a day earlier—that Republicans were a “slight favorite” to retake the Senate. Silver was wrong in 2012, the political committee’s Guy Cecil wrote in a memo, and he’ll be wrong again in 2014.
Chris Cilizza at the Washington Post notes that the Democratic pushback is so vigorous because of how seriously people take Silver’s projections. His models seem firmer than the more qualitative projections by Rothenberg or Cook, Cilizza writes, especially for Democrats:
Know who REALLY listens to what Nate says? Major Democratic donors. They follow his projections extremely closely and, if he says the Senate majority won’t be held, they take it as the gospel truth… If the major donor community concludes that spending on the Senate isn’t a worthy investment, Cecil and his Democratic colleagues know that their chances of holding the majority get very, very slim. Nate’s predictions move money in Democratic circles. Cecil knows that. Hence the memo.
But let’s circle back to Silver’s initial predictions: he said Republicans are “slight favorites,” not that Republicans are going to win. And Silver likewise avoided yes-or-no calls on his races. Even deep blue Rhode Island or deep red Idaho aren’t 100 percent locks for their respective parties — Silver has each as a 99 percent chance of victory. Closer stats have closer odds. North Carolina is a 50-50 state. In South Dakota, Silver gives Republicans a 90 percent chance of winning — which means that if you run a bunch of scenarios, one time in 10 the Democrats win the seat. You prefer the GOP’s odds there, but 10 percent isn’t terrible.
With an amusing lack of self-awareness, Cecil’s memo even acknowledges this fact:
Nate Silver and the staff at FiveThirtyEight are doing groundbreaking work, but, as they have noted, they have to base their forecasts on a scarce supply of public polls. In some cases more than half of these polls come from GOP polling outfits. This was one reason why FiveThirtyEight forecasts in North Dakota and Montana were so far off in 2012. In fact, in August of 2012 Silver forecasted a 61% likelihood that Republicans would pick up enough seats to claim the majority. Three months later Democrats went on to win 55 seats.
Cecil points to cases where Silver forecast a percentage likelihood — 61 percent chance Republicans win the Senate, 10 percent chance Democrats win North Dakota’s Senate seat — and actual result was the less likely one.
But that’s why Silver gives his projections in odds in the first place. Sometimes the long-shot wins. That’s why their odds of victory are 10 percent instead of 0 percent.
It’s about thinking in terms of probability rather than certainty. Silver writes about probability, and more often than not his probable winners win — because that’s what probable winners do, if your sample size is big enough and your model is good enough. But most people don’t understand probability. (The continued profitability of gambling and lotteries provides all the evidence you need of that.) More importantly, they don’t think probabilistically in their day-to-day lives. Something is or isn’t going to happen, and when a respected forecaster like Silver says something is probable, many people think it’s certain. Cilizza:
Numbers = certainty for many casual observers of politics. And so, despite Nate’s warning about the danger of putting all your eggs in the model’s basket at this point in the election, lots and lots of people do exactly that.
Cecil, a professional, probably gets this, but his audience — the Democratic base Cilizza notes as the target audience — doesn’t seem to. Or at least Cecil doesn’t seem think they do. He’s probably right.
A final bit of snark from P.M. Carpenter (via Sullivan):
Should Silver’s facts re-shift in favor of Democrats, he will again be hailed by the DSCC as America’s one statistician who has never erred.
FiveThirtyEight: 90% chance of Republican winning South Dakota's Senate seat
Stats whiz Nate Silver, who has a good (but not perfect) track record predicting the outcomes of political races, has released his initial forecasts for the 2014 U.S. Senate battle.
Overall, Silver says the Republicans are “slight favorites” to win control of the Senate, and gives them a 90 percent chance to win South Dakota’s Democrat-held Senate seat.
Silver notes that this forecast is preliminary and can change rapidly — shifts in the national political environment could give either party an advantage quickly. Further, compared to forecasts he makes closer to the election, he says there’s a larger amount of finessing and subjectivity in this early prediction.
Here’s what he says about South Dakota:
We also give Republicans a 90 percent chance of winning South Dakota. It’s a more straightforward case, except that the presumptive Republican nominee, Gov. Mike Rounds, has been caught up in a controversy over the state’s participation in the EB-5 immigration visa program. To have much of a chance, Democrats will either need Rounds to lose the Republican primary or be significantly damaged by it.
So far there’s not many signs of that happening. Early voting starts very soon, and Rounds’ Republican rivals need to start closing the gap, and quickly, if they want to have a chance at winning.
(Alternately, Rick Weiland or his allies could lend Rounds’ intra-party rivals a hand by launching attacks on him now. Advertising in the other party’s primary is an unusual tactic but one that has paid dividends in the past — Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill won a tough race in 2012 in part by running ads in the GOP primary that slyly boosted the chances of Todd Akin, the eventual winner her team saw as the weakest candidate. Of course, a wide-open three-way primary isn’t the same as a race with a clear favorite, like Rounds is in South Dakota.)
In this morning’s paper, I took a brief look at how the far-away turmoil in Ukraine could affect one group of South Dakotans: wheat farmers, who have seen the price of their commodity skyrocket.
That’s because Ukraine is a major wheat producer; if you remove a large amount of supply from the market, the price goes up because demand stays constant.
But the most interesting aspect of the whole story was a comment by one market analyst, Arlan Suderman of Water Street Solutions:
During the Carter era we imposed embargoes against Russia being able to buy our wheat, because back then they were a significant buyer. Well, now they’re a major export competitor. There’s really not any effective ways of us punishing them using the food crops this time around, which farmers are happy about.
I knew Ukraine was a wheat producer, but I had been under the mistaken impression that Russia still relied on wheat imports. Not so, Suderman said:
I get farmers asking me about that on a regular basis. It’s a lack of realizing how much the pendulum has switched from the late 70s to where we are today.
UPDATE: Of course, experts generally conclude Carter’s wheat export ban didn’t actually have much of an effect on the USSR — though it did affect domestic grain prices, increasing them during the embargo and then sinking them afterwards, contributing to the 1980s farm crisis.
People who have followed fundraising totals in South Dakota’s U.S. Senate race know the basic facts: Mike Rounds has raised by far the most, Nelson and Rhoden have raised the least, Weiland has been steady but unimpressive, and Bosworth has raised a lot of money from nationwide donors in unusual circumstances.
But here’s a way to visualize that fundraising at a glance. I used a tool called a heat map, which represents the density of points on a table, to map the cities the five candidates have raised money from. (This isn’t counting unitemized donations.)
Here, for example, is Stace Nelson's fundraising heat map:
(Larger interactive version) You can see Nelson has raised almost all his money in South Dakota, in a series of scattered clumps — not too much money in any one place. He also has a big clump in the Mitchell area, Nelson’s back yard.
Contrast that with Larry Rhoden's fundraising:
(Larger interactive version) Rhoden has a lot less support in eastern South Dakota, but dominates West River. Rhoden also has a teensy bit more nationwide support, but nothing significant.
Annette Bosworth, on the other hand:
(Larger interactive version) South Dakota is almost barren. Bosworth has raised a lot more money than Rhoden and Nelson, but far less in South Dakota. Instead, Bosworth’s map is dotted with yellow, reflecting a lot of scattered fundraisign around the country, but few real concentrations. She does have a disproportionate amount from Florida and the eastern seaboard, as well as the metro areas Denver and Chicago. All this fits with Bosworth’s direct mail-based approach of targeting conservative donors — often retired — around the country.
Here’s Rick Weiland:
(Larger interactive version) Weiland has a broad national base of support, as well as a fair amount of donations from South Dakota. He’s not as concentrated in a few South Dakota cities as Rhoden and Nelson are, but significant portions of the map are covered with yellow and red. Weiland also has a big cluster in Washington, D.C. — despite his lack of support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — and is strong in Boston and San Francisco.
Finally, there’s Mike Rounds:
(Larger interactive version) Rounds has raised a lot more money than anyone, and that’s reflected on the map. He’s collected money from a huge swathe of South Dakota, with a particular concentration in the Sioux Falls area. Rounds has also taken in a lot of money in the nation’s big cities: D.C. (but less prominently than Weiland), Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles.
Jason Ravnsborg and Larry Pressler have yet to report any significant fundraising.
On Friday, while talking to Gov. Dennis Daugaard about the state budget, I also asked him about the collection of bills this year that would have allowed people to refuse service to people on the basis of sexual orientation.
"Most of them were solving problems we haven’t seen here," Daugaard said. "More legislation driven by things that are occurring in other places. I guess I don’t see those problems here in South Dakota that the legislation attempted to address."
I asked him about criticism by some that those laws were “mean-spirited” or “hateful.” Daugaard demurred.
"I don’t know that I could characterize the motivations of anybody who introduces legislation," Daugaard said.
It was, as far as I know, the first time the governor had commented on the bills, which all got shot down in their first committee hearing here in South Dakota — unlike other states, such as Arizona, where similar legislation came very close to becoming law.
Daugaard was also much more restrained than his lieutenant governor, Matt Michels, who condemned the bills in February.
"There’s no place in our laws for these kind of words," Michels said, adding that he believes most South Dakotans agree. "There’s too much hate in the world and we don’t need it here (in South Dakota)."
Daugaard makes ballot for officially nonexistent reelection campaign
Gov. Dennis Daugaard was certified as a candidate for governor this afternoon, after Secretary of State Jason Gant validated Daugaard’s nominating petitions
Of course, Daugaard hasn’t technically announced that he’ll be running for a second term.
That announcement will come next week, Daugaard said in an email to supporters from his campaign organization.
The governor’s plans haven’t been any secret. Daugaard had more than $1,000,000 in the bank at the end of 2013 and has already shot campaign commercials. But he’s declined to officially announce his reelection bid until the end of this year’s legislative session.
Daugaard faces one declared challenger for the Republican nomination, Lora Hubbel. Two Democrats have announced campaigns for their party’s nomination: Joe Lowe and Susan Wismer. One member of the Constitution Party, Curtis Strong, has also declared his intentions to run, as has an independent, Mike Myers.
None of those four have yet turned in petitions to qualify for the ballot. The deadline is Tuesday, March 25.
Gov. Mike Rounds became the fourth U.S. Senate candidate to file his nominating petitions this cycle today, according to his campaign.
Rounds filed more than 7,000 signatures, well over the 1,955 signatures a Republican needs to make the ballot for a statewide office.
Republican state Rep. Stace Nelson was the first Senate candidate to fill petitions, followed by Republican state Sen. Larry Rhoden. Both of their petitions have been approved by Secretary of State Jason Gant, as have those of independent candidate Larry Pressler.
Democrat Rick Weiland and Republicans Annette Bosworth and Jason Ravnsborg, among announced candidates, have yet to file their petitions.
Weiland needs 1,221 valid signatures to make the ballot.
Typically candidates turn in a number of extra signatures as a buffer against some signatures being ruled invalid.
Under the radar, Rep. Kristi Noem has also filed her petitions for reelection. Gant approved them on Friday.
South Dakota teachers will get an average of around $220 more next year after a legislative committee approved $2.2 million more for education.
The change means schools will get a 3.35 percent increase over last year. That’s higher than the 3 percent boost originally proposed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
It’s an extra $16.72 per student, and will raise the state per-student allocation to $4,781.14.
Lawmakers will write a “letter of intent” instructing schools to use this extra money on teacher pay, and not other priorities.
Schools had asked for an increase to $4,804.60 — the funding schools had before Daugaard’s 2011 budget cuts. Several years of increases have yet to return schools to that original level.
Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, said the extra money was welcome but said Republicans seemed to lack a goal for resolving South Dakota’s teacher pay shortfall — the lowest in the country.
"If there’s not a plan in place to get us to a certain level… I’m not sure what it is we’re trying to accomplish," Sutton said.
Rep. Fred Romkema, R-Spearfish, said lawmakers gave schools as much money as the state had left over.
"The target this year was $4,804 for the public schools. We almost split the difference," Romkema said. "We only have so much money to spend, and I think we made a good faith effort here to get halfway there. I think we should be commended for that, and not leave here with some guilty feelings."
The comments reflect a philosophical dispute about budgeting process. Here’s what I surmise from observing the budget process for a number of years: Generally speaking, Democrats would say school funding is their top priority, fund it at the level needed, and then build the rest of the budget around that priority. Republicans look at school funding as just one of a number of priorities in a complicated budget, not one that necessarily gets primacy. That means lawmakers determine how much money is available and then allocate a portion to schools, rather than determining how much money schools need first and allocating the rest of the money to other areas.
At some point today or tomorrow — hopefully today — the Joint Appropriations Committee will take up the proposed amendments to the general budget.
I’ve put together an interactive spreadsheet for people (including myself) to follow along with the Joint Appropriations Committee hearing. Take a look at it here.
The description of each amendment is hyperlinked to a PDF of the amendment’s full text, which you can click through for more information.
As each amendment is acted on, I’ll update the first column. That will automatically update the two sums on the top of the graph, showing the net change from all adopted amendments to both the state general fund and to the total budget.
Enjoy! I’ll have more updates on some of these proposals throughout the day.
School, medical funding still up in the air for 2015
Last-minute negotiations Thursday night between Republican lawmakers and Gov. Dennis Daugaard will determine how much money schools and medical providers get next year.
By the end of the day Friday, legislators will adopt a 2015 budget. It could increase school and medical provider funding by the 3 percent Daugaard recommended — or it could go beyond that.
How much extra is uncertain, though it’s not expected to be the 3.8 percent increase requested by schools.
"I think everything’s still on the table," said Jason Dilges, Daugaard’s budget chief. "There’s been pretty broad support for spending a little bit more. How much, we’ll see (Friday)."
The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee met Thursday for just over an hour, passing a few uncontroversial amendments to the budget and killing many requests. Democrats saw an attempt to expand Medicaid shot down, while Republican calls to spend more money on tech schools and science research also lost. So did bipartisan projects like Teen Court and prenatal care for pregnant non-citizens.
Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, said she and other GOP leaders are “still negotiating” with Daugaard over how much to fund schools and medical providers. In particular, lawmakers are considering those providers who are “highly reliant on Medicaid dollars,” Peters said, rather than hospitals and clinics that treat more people with private insurance.
Previously, Peters has said any increase for schools would be earmarked for increasing teacher pay.
How much money there is for schools and providers will be determined by how much the state expects its Medicaid program to cost. As the economy improves, fewer people than expected are signing up for Medicaid, which saves the state money.
If lawmakers anticipate large savings, that’s more money to spend.
"Will there be additional reductions to fund other priorities?" Dilges said. "There’s so much uncertainty out there, so we need to make sure we have enough dollars to cover the what-ifs we’re not terribly comfortable with."
Dilges said Daugaard is wary of extra ongoing funding for schools and providers, since that spending also affects future years’ budgets. But the governor is open, Dilges said, to extra funding if he’s confident the state can afford it.
The Joint Appropriations Committee will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Friday to resume action on the budget.
A few weeks back, gubernatorial adviser Deb Bowman asked a committee to send something she supports, prenatal care for pregnant non-citizens, to the Appropriations Committee.
On Thursday, the senators on that committee killed that proposal.
"We just couldn’t get the votes," said Bowman.
The Joint Appropriations Committee killed a similar measure last year. This time, with apparent support for the idea among the House members, senators invoked a rule to require support from both houses. That means when Republican senators voted as a bloc against the prenatal care, the proposal died.
A majority of the House appropriators had voted in favor of the prenatal care measure on the House floor.
It would have cost about $118,000 in general funds, but supporters said it would pay for itself many times over by preventing costly premature births.
Several leaders said in recent days that the biggest dispute was not fiscal, but rather policy — some lawmakers objected to spending state dollars on non-citizens, many or most of them are illegal immigrants.
The prenatal care bill got more support this year than last, but just didn’t have the votes to get over the top in the Senate.
Bowman is now retiring. She said someone else will have to champion the prenatal care idea next year.
Texting while driving is about to become illegal in South Dakota.
In an unexpected move just two days after talks collapsed in failure, the South Dakota Legislature resoundingly approved a compromise texting ban Thursday. It now heads to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who supports the concept, for a signature or veto.
Under the deal, texting while driving would be illegal across the state, with a $100 penalty. Police wouldn’t be able to pull drivers over just for texting, but cities such as Sioux Falls with tougher bans will be allowed to keep them. Police won’t be allowed to seize someone’s cell phone to prove they were texting without going through the normal search and seizure procedures.
"We finally did what we didn’t think would happen this year," said Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, one of the lawmakers who negotiated the deal. "I’m just tickled pink."
The compromise resembles an offer made earlier this session by Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, who has been the lead champion of a statewide texting ban. A House committee killed Vehle’s proposal, but on Thursday it passed both the House and Senate with support from more than two-thirds of the members.
The difference? Public pressure.
"There was an enormous amount of pressure from home, and from people who talked in the last crackerbarrels, (saying) ‘Why aren’t you doing something about texting?’" said Hoffman. "People in this House and Senate didn’t want to go back on their campaign and have to be badgered with, ‘Why aren’t you doing your job?’
Vehle said he’d prefer a stronger ban that allows police to pull people over for texting. But he’s willing to accept a weaker ban as long as it allows stronger bans put in place by local governments to stand. Police in Sioux Falls, Mitchell and other cities are allowed to pull over texting drivers, and will retain that power under the compromise measure.
"If I was a benevolent dictator, I’d have a different bill," Vehle said. "But at this point I want something that is statewide, and they’ve done that… You’ve got to have something that’s possible."
Throughout this session, Vehle has butted heads with House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, over the texting issue. Gosch opposes allowing police to pull over texters, and wanted to override local bans that allow that.
Thursday morning, hours before a conference committee met to discuss the ban, Gosch agreed to let local bans stand, Hoffman said.
"I was very concerned that Speaker Gosch was not going to allow us to take out (the override of local bans), and that’s the big sticking point," Hoffman said. "Once we got Speaker Gosch on board with us this morning, I knew this was going to take off."
Gosch said the appointment of new lawmakers helped make the difference after he and Vehle couldn’t agree. He endorsed the compromise despite differences from his preferred measure.
"There will still be people who want it to be stricter, and there are some people who think it’s too strict," Gosch said. "It’s a compromise."
Hoffman said he and Rep. Steve Westra, R-Sioux Falls, lobbied Gosch heavily to agree to a compromise.
Steve Allender, the Rapid City police chief who has aggressively pushed for a texting ban, said he’s disappointed the ban won’t allow police to pull over texters around the state.
"This bill, while better than nothing, probably, does not provide the enforcement tool necessary to be a complete success," Allender said.
Rep. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, called the measure “a true compromise between all of the (texting ban) bills that have been out there this year.”
"If it’s not perfect, we can come back and we can look at it again," Heinert said.
Sen. Blake Curd, R-Sioux Falls, credited Vehle’s four-year battle to pass a texting ban.
"He’s tried and failed many times to get a bill through both chambers," Curd said, provoking spontaneous applause from the audience. "Without his perseverance and dedication to this issue… I don’t think we’d be able to sit here today."
Rapid City couple to challenge S.D.'s gay marriage ban
A big development and test is coming up for South Dakota’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. A same-sex Rapid City couple, Nancy Robrahn and Jennie Rosenkranz, tried Wednesday to get a marriage license. They tell the Rapid City Journal they will eventually file a lawsuit demanding the state recognize their marriage, which they plan to acquire in another state.
Judges have recently struck down a number of state gay marriage bans.
With a standing-room crowd lobbyists and lawmakers watching in amusement, six South Dakota lawmakers met Wednesday morning to discuss the wording of a nonbinding resolution opposing the federal Affordable Care Act.
It was, longtime lobbyists and staff said, possibly the first time a nonbinding resolution had ever been referred to a conference committee in the history of the South Dakota Legislature.
Outspoken Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, had originally proposed a resolution urging Congress to “repeal and defund” the Affordable Care Act. But his resolution also accused South Dakota leaders, including Gov. Dennis Daugaard, of being complicit in the enactment of the controversial law despite Daugaard’s stated opposition and resistance to an expansion of Medicaid.
"Numerous bills have been defeated that sought to nullify and fight this controversial act, while numerous bills were passed that helped enact it and implement it here in the state of South Dakota," Nelson said Wednesday.
In 2011, Daugaard’s administration successfully sought laws updating South Dakota’s insurance regulations to comply with changes in the Affordable Care Act. The state has also received federal grants to study potential implementation of the act’s health insurance exchanges, which Daugaard ultimately left to the federal government to run instead.
But after the House passed Nelson’s resolution, the Senate amended it to remove mentions of where South Dakota had gone along with the act’s provisions. When the resolution came back to the House, Nelson requested a conference committee to resolve the differences between the chambers — and to many lawmakers’ surprise was granted one.
When the committee met on Wednesday morning, it included a key Nelson ally, Rep. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs — but also Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, who is currently suing Nelson over an alleged election law violation.
In the crowd were lobbyists and legislators, including House Speaker Brian Gosch, Speaker Pro Tempore Dean Wink and Assistant Majority Leader Justin Cronin. Gosch, who has clashed with Nelson, was even eating popcorn as he watched. Also there were Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, who is running against Nelson for U.S. Senate, and Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, whose brother Mike is also in the Senate race.
Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, asked the conference committee to kill Nelson’s resolution entirely.
"While our colleagues are in the halls of the Capitol putting the finishing touches on their bills, lobbying for their pet projects or trying to protect the taxpayers in their district… we’re in a committee room talking about a resolution with no force of law that is more about scorecards and postcards than about legislating for the people of South Dakota," Tieszen said.
Tieszen said the Senate had made “a mistake” to amend Nelson’s resolution.
"I don’t think the Senate is prepared to make another mistake," he said.
Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, commended Nelson’s “passion” on the subject but said it was time to “move on.”
Nelson said public opposition to the Affordable Care Act in South Dakota meant this was an issue worth the Legislature’s time.
Conference committee rules require support from at least two of the three members from each chamber. That meant Nelson and Russell blocked Tieszen’s motion to kill the resolution. Tieszen, Lederman and the two Democrats on the committee in turn blocked Nelson’s amendment restoring most of his original language. Finally, lawmakers agreed to dissolve without agreement. The issue now returns to the House and Senate, who are expected to kill the resolution for good.
Two sides of texting ban dispute unable to agree, ban dies
An unsolvable dispute about enforcement sunk a statewide ban on texting while driving Tuesday in the Legislature.
Both the House and Senate had passed statewide texting bans. But the Senate version gave police the power to pull over texting drivers, while the House version did not. Senators were willing to accept weaker powers, but only if stronger texting bans in cities such as Sioux Falls were allowed to stand. House members insisted on overriding those bans in the name of uniform law across the state.
"It’s clear to me that we’re at loggerheads here," said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City.
Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, had championed the House version. Gosch said he doesn’t believe letting police pull over texters works to deter texting while driving — and might make it worse.
"I’m thinking if it’s too strong, people hide the equipment too much, and they lose their peripheral vision on the road and it causes more accidents," Gosch said.
Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, disputed that. A law that police can’t enforce directly won’t do much good, he said.
All six lawmakers on the conference committee appointed to resolve the issue recognized the impasse and voted to kill the bill.
Tieszen, a longtime champion of a statewide texting ban, said he was willing to accept the bill’s demise because of the growing number of cities that have passed local bans. Doing nothing allows those local bans to continue.
"No bill is better than a bad bill," Tieszen said.
Felony animal cruelty bill heading to governor's desk
Overcoming small but determined opposition, the South Dakota Legislature has approved a new felony penalty for animal cruelty.
The measure, Senate Bill 46, now heads to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for a signature or veto.
Backed by both animal welfare groups and agriculture organizations, the measure makes intentional, willful and malicious “gross physical abuse” that causes serious injury or death to an animal a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $4,000 fine.
Animal neglect or mistreatment remains a misdemeanor. South Dakota is the only state in the country without a felony penalty for animal cruelty.
Supporters said the felony penalty would be the appropriate punishment for extreme cases of animal torture and mutilation. But they highlighted the exceptions in the law, which protect traditional agricultural practices and humane killings of animals.
In a last-ditch effort Tuesday, opponents tried to remove mention of local humane societies from the law. Since the 1930s local humane societies have been given powers to protect animal welfare in South Dakota, which struck some lawmakers as wrong. Supporters defended the longstanding role of the humane societies, and pointed out they have no affiliation with the more controversial Humane Society of the United States.
That amendment was defeated, and then lawmakers passed the full animal cruelty bill 54-14.
This morning, legislative leaders adopted new rules for next year that will limit the number of resolutions lawmakers can offer.
The restriction comes after a record number of resolutions were introduced in the House of Representatives, including 11 from Rep. Stace Nelson.
No one will be able to do that next year. Under the rules passed Tuesday by the Legislative Procedure Committee, lawmakers will be limited to introducing four concurrent (nonbinding) resolutions. And three of those have to be introduced before the start of the Legislature’s third week — the ninth day out of 35. This year lawmakers could introduce resolutions up to the 26th day. That will remain the deadline for lawmakers’ fourth and final concurrent resolution.
Now, rules like this wouldn’t necessarily have stopped Nelson from bringing all those resolutions. He’d have just had to get three allies to sponsor bills for him. That already happens with bills, where lawmakers are limited to just three bills in the days before the deadline. If one legislator has already hit his or her limit, they will commonly ask a friend to introduce a bill for them.
But next year’s lawmakers will also have more restrictions on the type of resolutions they can offer. In another rule change, resolutions will no longer be allowed to “memorialize” something or someone.
But as Rep. David Lust noted, this restriction can be bypassed by clever legislators. Resolutions are still allowed if they’re instructing a department of state government or petitioning federal agencies, and a lawmaker could always phrase their resolution as a petition to Congress to honor the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
The leaders on the Legislative Procedure Committee, though, seemed to agree with Rep. Brian Gosch, who said the changes, “combined with some turnover in the Legislature,” probably address “the issue we had this year.”
Sen. Phyllis Heineman had another hope: if South Dakota passes fewer resolutions, she said, perhaps the ones that do pass will be seen with greater weight. As it is, Lust said Tuesday the Legislature could probably abolish concurrent resolutions altogether without any big effect, since they don’t have the force of law and are often ignored.
Contra Daugaard, legislators set optimistic budget projections
This morning, the Joint Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to adopt new revenue projections that are somewhat more confident than those put forward either by Gov. Dennis Daugaard or the Legislature’s own fiscal staff.
Combining the current year’s and next year’s budget, lawmakers expect South Dakota to have an extra $3.3 million more than the Legislative Research Council predicted. And they expect a whopping $7 million more than Daugaard had predicted.
These numbers didn’t come out of thin air. After LRC and the state Bureau of Finance and Management each issued their revenue projections yesterday morning, lawmakers went through and in almost every case picked the higher number of the two for every revenue source.
For example, BFM predicted $848 million from the sales tax in 2015, while LRC predicted $851 million. Lawmakers went with $851 million. But for the property tax reduction fund, BFM predicted $107 million to LRC’s $105 million; lawmakers adopted $107 million as their total.
Daugaard’s budget chief, Jason Dilges, wasn’t too happy with this burst of optimism from the appropriators.
“It looks like to me there’s … a desire to try and have the revenue estimates be higher and spend money,” he said Monday evening.
Dilges also complained that “none of the legislators have been forthcoming with me” about some of their spending plans.
Under the first three years of Daugaard’s term, lawmakers largely went along with the governor’s stated goal of very conservative budget projections. That seems to be shifting a little this year.
Now, a $7 million difference in a $1.4 billion budget is not terribly much. And recent years have often seen budget surpluses in the tens of millions of dollars. Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, cited that history in his defense of why he considers this more optimistic projection to be “pretty conservative.”
"I will be shocked if we come back next year and we don’t have more revenue than we forecast," Mickelson said.
Still, lawmakers largely cited anecdotal data (large amounts of construction in their home towns, today’s prices on the ag commodity market) and gut feelings Tuesday morning when defending their optimistic revenue projections.
"Traditionally, I’ve been known as very, very conservative," said Sen. Bill Van Gerpen, R-Tyndall. "But I feel very good about the subcommittee’s recommendation numbers. Sales tax I think is going to see an increase this year."
This new assertiveness comes in a year when Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, is running the appropriations process. Peters has a more forceful personality than last year’s Joint Appropriations chair Fred Romkema. Under Romkema, lawmakers largely stuck within the confines of Daugaard’s proposed budget, spending money he had left for them to allocate but not changing anything significant other than cutting an employee wellness incentive program.
It remains to be seen how things will shape up over the coming days, but don’t be surprised if lawmakers are more willing than the past to defy Daugaard and tinker with his budget.
Senate strengthens texting ban, setting up showdown with House
South Dakota’s Senate moved Monday to strengthen a proposed ban on texting while driving, adding teeth to the bill — and possibly dooming it.
The 22-13 vote on Monday sets up a clash with the House of Representatives, whose members prefer a weaker texting ban that where police can’t pull someone over just for texting.
In contrast, the version approved by the Senate Monday allows police to pull drivers over for texting. It also raises the penalty from a $25 petty offense to a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $500 and 30 days in jail.
Those two measures are especially significant because both the current proposal and the version previously approved by the House override any local texting bans. A number of South Dakota cities and counties, including Sioux Falls, have passed their own texting bans with stiffer penalties similar to the Senate bill.
That means the House bill would weaken existing texting bans, while the Senate version will mean little change to the law in places like Sioux Falls.
Several senators said Monday that the House version was too weak to deter texting while driving.
Sen. Tom Jones, D-Viborg, called the House version “a slap in the face to the families of the innocent” victims of texting drivers, and the second-worst bill he had seen in his four years in the Legislature.
Others predicted the House would reject the stronger texting ban. The only way to ban texting while driving statewide, said Sen. Mark Kirkeby, R-Rapid City, was to accept the House version.
"Passing this amendment will assure you that the great state of South Dakota will in fact not pass a texting bill this year," Kirkeby said. "We know that our chamber across the hall is just not going to occur. Our opportunity is going to be lost for an entire other year."
On Tuesday, the House will consider the Senate version of the texting ban. Lawmakers there can either accept the Senate’s changes, reject them and kill the bill or appoint a conference committee to negotiate a compromise version.
House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, the prime sponsor of the weaker House ban, said Monday afternoon that he didn’t know what he’d encourage the House to do with the Senate version.
South Dakota’s public higher education crowd should find out this week if legislators will finance the almost $1.9 million needed to cover a health insurance shortfall for its employees and thus keep tuition and mandatory fees frozen for resident students in the next academic year.
S.D. revenue down from December projections (UPDATED)
South Dakota has less money than it thought a few months ago, but experts say the small decline might not put the state into a budgetary bind.
Compared to December, when Gov. Dennis Daugaard rolled out his budget, South Dakota is now projected to have between $6 million and $10 million less over the next year and a half.
That’s despite robust growth in the sales tax, South Dakota’s biggest source of income. Two other volatile funds — the state’s bank tax and its unclaimed property fund — are down by even more.
The 2014 budget is down by about 0.6 percent since December’s estimates, though some of that is offset by some predicted one-time revenue. The 2015 budget projections are down by around 0.4 percent.
"You’re talking about a revision downward of $6 million in (a total budget of $1.37 billion), so in the grand scheme of things, it’s not significant," said Jim Terwilliger of the state Bureau of Finance and Management.
Overall, the state’s revenue is still up considerably compared to last year. The current year’s budget is projected to have nearly $25 million more than initially thought in March 2013. And 2015’s budget will be another $42 million above that, the latest estimates say.
But the new projections by both Daugaard’s budget office and the Legislature’s own fiscal staff mean the governor’s budget will need to be slightly trimmed before lawmakers pass it this week.
Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton and a member of the Appropriations Committee, said the decline is actually good news, because it’s smaller than feared and manageable.
"I was generally pleased," Bolin said. "We’re going to have to deny some funding requests that people were hoping to receive, but… it’s going to be a tweak more than any kind of major cut."
On Monday morning, lawmakers heard two budget projections. Daugaard’s budget office revised its numbers down by just under $10 million. The Legislature’s fiscal staff were more optimistic, predicting a smaller decline of just $6.1 million.
At some point Monday, a legislative subcommittee will meet to set an official estimate taking both projections into consideration. That will set the stage for later this week, when lawmakers make final changes to the state’s budget and pass it.
In wake of EB-5, feds want more information from GOED
Three federal agencies are probing South Dakota’s economic development office, in what its director says isn’t related to the ongoing EB-5 visa scandal but could be inspired by it.
Speaking to lawmakers Friday, economic development commissioner Pat Costello revealed his office has requests for information from the U.S. Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, and Energy departments.
Each department is asking the Governor’s Office of Economic Development for more information about their own programs with GOED. For example, Costello said Housing and Urban Development wants more information about how South Dakota has handled its Community Development Block Grants, which are funded by the department.
Costello guessed news about alleged wrongdoing at GOED under under then-leader Richard Benda is behind those agencies checking in.
"I think the publicity that all this has come with, there’s been a number of those agencies that have just inquired," Costello said.
Autism therapy bill defeated, new fight likely coming
A bid from parents and doctors to require more coverage of an expensive autism treatment was defeated Thursday after insurance companies and businesses opposed the mandate’s cost.
Over two hours of testimony and debate, a range of supporters told lawmakers that “applied behavioral analysis” therapy, or ABA, was the best way to treat many young children with autism.
"Research tells us that when comprehensive ABA therapy is provided at the prescribed intensity, up to 47 percent of individuals will be able to mainstream into a regular first grade classroom without an aide," said Dr. Daisha Seyfer, a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Sanford Health.
Parents testified about how ABA treatment had made a huge different in their children’s behavior. Michelle Powers of Brookings said her daughter’s autism made her act “out of control” with daily outbursts. After seven months of prescribed ABA treatment, the outbursts had become less severe and less frequent — once a week instead of daily.
But the same thing about ABA therapy that experts say brings results, its intensive nature, also makes it expensive. A full load of ABA therapy involves up to 40 hours of treatment per week, and can easily cost more than $100,000 per year.
That means few families can afford it, but also that insurance companies don’t want to fund it.
Avera is the only health plan in the state to currently cover ABA. Some parents received payment for ABA therapy from Wellmark, but the company says that was a mistake due to imprecise billing. In January, it notified families it would no longer be covering ABA — which brought those families to the Legislature.
Jana Johnson, a doctor and a mother of a child with autism, complained that if autism could be treated with surgery or a pill, insurance companies would cover it in a heartbeat. It’s only behavior therapy, Johnson said, that they balk at.
Rep. Scott Munsterman’s bill required some health care plans to cover ABA therapy and other autism treatments. Around 60,000 to 90,000 citizens would be affected — primarily those who get their coverage from larger employers, and those with smaller plans that have been grandfathered in under the federal Affordable Care Act. Small business insurance plans and non-grandfathered plans on the individual marketplace would would not be affected.
Munsterman originally proposed to require all plans to cover ABA therapy. But under the Affordable Care Act, states that impose new coverage mandates on insurance companies are required to pay for that cost. To dodge a budget battle and weaken opposition from Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Munsterman narrowed the bill to apply only to those plans the state wouldn’t have to pay for.
But insurance plans said they shouldn’t have to pay for expensive treatment, which they said would force them to pass costs on to customers in the form of higher premiums.
"Many South Dakotans are increasingly concerned about their ability to afford health insurance," said Darla Pollman Rogers, a lobbyist for Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Dakota. "We share that concern and we encourage legislators to carefully scrutinize proposed legislation that might in any way increase costs."
Wellmark previously estimated it might cost as much as $7 per member per year more to cover ABA treatment for everyone, but said the actual figure was probably higher.
Pollman Rogers also argued that ABA therapy was experimental and unproven compared to other, less expensive therapies. Studies show ABA isn’t helpful “in all cases,” Pollman Rogers said, arguing for more research.
That contradicted Seyfer’s testimony, and a list she provided of 26 different scholarly articles she said backed up the effectiveness of ABA therapy.
State Sen. Dan Lederman criticized the bill’s supporters for not finding a compromise with insurance companies. He also said he was hesitant to support a measure when the two sides disagreed on the facts and figures.
The Senate Commerce and Energy Committee voted 5-2 to kill the bill, with Sens. Ryan Maher and Angie Buhl O’Donnell opposed.
But supporters aren’t giving up. Munsterman is looking at ways to bypass the Senate committee, which could include sticking the autism language into another bill. That showdown will likely come on Monday.
In the summer of 2012, I profiled Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s senior team of advisers: six aides who meet at least weekly to discuss issues and advise the governor. Their formal name is the Governor’s Executive Committee, which its member shorten to “GECo.”
That team consisted of Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, chief of staff Dusty Johnson, policy and communications director Tony Venhuizen, senior adviser Deb Bowman, economic development commissioner Pat Costello and budget director Jason Dilges.
Bowman is retiring at the end of the legislative session after more than two decades in state government. She’ll be replaced as a senior adviser with Kim Malsam-Rysdon, the former Secretary of Social Services. (It’s not the first time Malsam-Rysdon replaced Bowman, who was DSS secretary before her.)
But right now there’s an overlap. Malsam-Rysdon has begun work as a senior adviser, but Bowman has yet to resign. So until March 21, Daugaard’s six-member adviser team has a seventh member.
Lawmakers push back against governor on 'Building South Dakota'
South Dakota lawmakers defended an economic development program they created last year from perceived encroachment by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Wednesday.
The Building South Dakota program, created by a bipartisan group of legislative leaders in 2013 with only reluctant support form Gov. Dennis Daugaard, spends millions of dollars each year on economic development incentives, career education, affordable housing and other areas.
But as part of complicated budget maneuvers, this year Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed replacing the ongoing funding stream for Building South Dakota with a one-time infusion of $30 million. In addition to giving Daugaard more funds for his priorities, this also removed his primary objection: Building South Dakota’s continual appropriation of large amounts of money from the state’s unclaimed property fund.
In a hearing Wednesday morning, the House State Affairs Committee approved Daugaard’s funding swap. They also agreed to a three-year cap on Building South Dakota’s spending at $10 million per year, part of an accounting mechanism so Daugaard’s $30 million infusion wouldn’t get automatically spent at once. But they drew the line at the governor’s proposal for a permanent $10 million yearly cap.
"To limit in perpetuity distributions from the Building South Dakota fund at $10 million is not appropriate," said House Republican leader David Lust, R-Rapid City.
Under the program’s structure, 30 percent of its funding is automatically spent every year on career education and other programs in local school districts. That’s true whether lawmakers give it $10 million or $100 million.
Daugaard’s budget director Jason Dilges said a cap would preserve money in the fund for the non-educational aspects of the fund: local development corporations, infrastructure, housing and other areas, which he called “the true economic development aspects” of Building South Dakota.
That drew criticism from Democrats, who said the educational aspects of the fund are among the most effective forms of long-term economic development.
"This is a sly way to take money away from education," said House Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton.
Under pressure from lawmakers, Dilges said proposed removing the $10 million cap.
"It would be very short-sighted of us to decide that we’re going to derail this proposal because of what’s going to happen three years down the road," he said.
The House State Affairs Committee then adopted a Lust amendment to remove the cap, before passing the bill.
Democrats on the committee voted no, saying the long-term provisions to fund Building South Dakota with budget surpluses are sufficiently complicated they could be manipulated with “sleight of hand budgeting.” But Hunhoff said Democrats support the concept.
Had lawmakers not approved Daugaard’s plan to replace Building South Dakota’s ongoing funding with one-time money, Dilges said schools and medical providers would have to fall from 3 percent funding bumps to 1.6 percent increases.
Earlier today, the Senate State Affairs Committee voted 5-4 to pass House Speaker Brian Gosch’s version of a statewide ban on texting while driving. Some longtime supporters of texting bans oppose Gosch’s measure because it’s a “secondary offense” — which means drivers can’t be pulled over for it, only given an add-on ticket for another offense — and because it overrides the stronger texting bans a number of South Dakota cities pass.
But ultimately it’s no surprise that Gosch’s bill is advancing while Vehle’s heads into hostile territory tomorrow in the House Transportation Committee. In this political battle, Gosch holds all the cards.
Ultimately it comes down to this: Gosch doesn’t care very much about banning texting while driving. He’s opposed bans for years, arguing they don’t do much good and aren’t enforceable. He only came on board this year when he melded a texting ban to language overriding local texting bans. That override is where Gosch is passionate — he believes cities are already exceeding their legal authority by passing texting bans and wants to make that explicit.
In contrast, traditional texting ban supporters like Mike Vehle and Craig Tieszen want very much to ban texting while driving, which they believe is a scourge leading to accidents and deaths across South Dakota. So if the result of this legislative dispute is another year of no statewide ban, that’s a defeat for them.
Because the status quo is more acceptable to Gosch than it is to Vehle and Tieszen, he’s more willing to see both bills die — the likely outcome if the two chambers can’t make an agreement. So Gosch has no incentive to make any concessions from his position. He either gets what he wants, or things stay the same — neither one a loss.
Underpinning this power is Gosch’s support in the House, which has traditionally resisted texting bans. By being able to deliver a House majority for his statewide ban this year, and comfortable in the existence of a majority to defeat any versions he dislikes, Gosch can negotiate from a position of strength.
Vehle’s position of weakness has been clear for weeks. Instead of sticking to his guns and getting the Senate to pass his ideal texting ban — where police can pull people over for texting and the penalty is stronger — Vehle preemptively watered down his bill with elements of Gosch’s proposal. Today he pronounced himself undecided whether Gosch’s bill would be better or worse than the status quo.
Presuming the House sticks to its guns and defeats any alternative to Gosch’s bill, there are two potential outcomes here: either the Senate can acquiesce to Gosch’s version and pass it, or it can amend it and set up a conference committee fight. But as Speaker of the House Gosch would appoint all the House members of the conference committee. Since bills before a six-member conference committee need support from at least two of the three members from each House, Gosch would be able to effectively block any proposal he doesn’t like. With, as stated above, no incentive for Gosch to compromise, that would give Vehle two choices: surrender, or kill the bill.
The real strategic mistake on the part of texting ban supporters was not launching an initiated measure years ago. They cite polling showing overwhelming popular support for texting bans, but kept coming back year after year to bash their heads against the immovable opposition in the House. Now they’re likely to get what they wanted — a statewide texting ban — but in a form they abhor.
Senate committee approves statewide texting ban, overrides local bans
A legislative committee voted on Wednesday to ban texting while driving in South Dakota — but also to override stronger local bans in cities like Sioux Falls.
The proposal, sponsored by House Speaker Brian Gosch, was one of two competing texting bans moving through the South Dakota Legislature. Compared to a version sponsored by Sen. Mike Vehle, Gosch’s version has a smaller $25 fine and specifically overrides any local texting bans.
Gosch said the state should have the same driving laws everywhere, not different laws in different cities.
"It makes sense with a state like ours that has as its number two industry tourism, as people travel into this state… they need to know that the rules of the road are going to be the same wherever they go," Gosch said.
On Wednesday, Gosch’s bill divided traditional supporters of texting bans. Some, such as the South Dakota Trucking Association and the state medical association, said they support any texting ban, even if they might prefer a strong version.
"We don’t care how you do it, just get it done this year," said Bob Miller, a lobbyist for the Dakota Transit Association, told lawmakers.
But the state’s cities and police chiefs were “vehemently” opposed.
Steve Allender, Rapid City’s police chief, said a strong texting ban would include a larger fine than $25 and crucially would allow police to pull someone over for texting. Under Gosch’s proposal, police can’t pull drivers over for texting, though they can issue an add-on ticket if they pull someone over for another violation. Vehle’s bill, in a concession, also doesn’t allow police to stop vehicles for texting, but it leaves in place local bans that do.
"This bill is nothing but a resolution asking the people to stop texting," Allender said.
But Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, reminded supporters of a stronger texting ban of the arguments they had used to persuade him in years past: that South Dakotans are law-abiding and most will stop texting and driving just because it’s illegal, not because of the penalty.
For a number of years, South Dakota’s Senate has supported a texting ban, only to see it die in the House — with opposition led by Gosch. This year Gosch switched from opposition to supporting a weaker texting ban that overrides local ordinances.
Gosch’s bill passed the Senate State Affairs Committee 5-4 Wednesday morning, with Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, casting the deciding vote. It now heads to the full Senate.
Vehle’s alternative texting ban bill previously passed the Senate and is scheduled for a hearing before the House Transportation Committee Thursday.
A longtime crusader for a texting ban, Vehle said he doesn’t know whether South Dakota would be better off with Gosch’s bill or nothing.
"You’re going to have (a ban in) the whole state then," Vehle said. "But you would be taking away the stronger ban in the communities. That’s a tough call as to say whether that’s a win or a loss."
Sioux Falls, Brookings, Huron, Mitchell, Vermillion and Watertown have all passed local texting bans.
South Dakota students should get ready to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school if they don’t already do.
The state Senate voted 35-0 to require daily Pledge recitations in schools, sending it to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk for a signature. Not a single lawmaker in either the House or Senate voted against the Pledge requirement.
The measure allows students who don’t want to say the pledge to opt out as long as they maintain a “respectful silence” during the Pledge.
Keep 'dangerous' mentally ill from buying guns, committee says
Federal law prohibits the dangerously mentally ill from purchasing firearms. But South Dakotans who are involuntarily committed for being a danger to themselves or others dodge that law right now, because South Dakota doesn’t submit lists of the dangerous mentally ill to the federal background check system.
That’s on the verge of changing. On Tuesday morning, a Senate committee voted 5-2 for a bill to begin filing that mental illness information with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
The measure, House Bill 1229, would require mental health officials to notify the federal government if someone were involuntarily committed for being a danger to one’s self or others. Prosecutors would be required to tell NICS if someone were acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity, or declared unfit to stand trial.
HB1229 also sets up a process by which people who believe they are no longer mentally ill can ask South Dakota judges to restore their gun rights. Supporters say that bypasses a much more cumbersome process of appealing to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
South Dakota already reports other information to NICS, including when someone is convicted of a felony.
A similar measure was shot down last year. But with support this time from the National Rifle Association, it’s having better luck this year. If the South Dakota Senate approves the bill, it will head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for a signature.
"To me it’s one of the reasonable, responsible responses we can make to all the issues of gun violence in our society today," said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City.
But while the NRA and the National Shootings Sports Association backs the measure, a different gun group is fiercely opposing it as an attack on the Second Amendment. The National Association of Gun Rights and its South Dakota affiliate, South Dakota Gun Owners, have urged their members to contact lawmakers and lobby for a no vote.
Neither group testified on Tuesday before the Senate committee.
"I’ve been deluged with emails and I’m kind of surprised there’s no one here to oppose it," said Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell.
Several lawmakers found the law concerning.
Sen. Tim Begalka, R-Clear Lake, worried that it’s too hard to get off the NICS registry, even with the new system set forth in HB1229. He opposed granting more power to the federal government and worried that veterans could find themselves unable to buy guns because they seek treatment for PTSD.
"I don’t believe we have a problem in South Dakota," Begalka said. "We’ve gone years without this. I believe we’re ostracizing the mentally ill."
Sen. Jeff Monroe, R-Pierre, said the rapid growth of mental illness diagnoses in recent decades makes him leery of barring gun purchases because of someone’s mental health.
Tieszen, though, said the law is narrow and wouldn’t apply to most people with mental health issues.
"If we have a veteran who comes home and is dangerously mentally ill and is a danger to themselves or their community, don’t we want them to not have easy access to firearms?" Tieszen said.
S.D., feds negotiating over possible Medicaid expansion
South Dakota officials have begun informal negotiations with the federal government over a potential Medicaid expansion in the Mount Rushmore State.
Just over a month after Gov. Dennis Daugaard asked for flexibility to cover just some of the people the Affordable Care Act wants states to add to the Medicaid program, officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have reached out to learn more about what Daugaard wants to do.
"The fact that they’re asking questions at all means that they’re considering it," said Daugaard aide Tony Venhuizen, who cautioned that the discussions were "preliminary" and involved lower-level staff.
Discussions have also involved Democratic leaders in the Legislature. House Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton, said South Dakota Democrats have reached out to their contacts in President Barack Obama’s administration to encourage them to take Daugaard’s outreach seriously.
"We’re getting word from Washington that they respect our moving deadline, and they want to work with us, and work to get the best possible proposal on the table," said Hunhoff. "Hopefully that will happen within days here."
So far Republican legislative leaders haven’t yet been contacted by federal officials, but Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave said he expects conversations to happen later this week.
South Dakota has less than two weeks left in its regular legislative session. Daugaard had asked for speedy consideration of South Dakota’s request given its short legislative session.
The federal Affordable Care Act calls on states to expand the Medicaid program to cover everyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $15,521 for an individual or $31,721 for a family of four. Under the law, the federal government would pay the entire cost of the expansion until 2016, and 90 percent or more after that.
But people earning more than 100 percent of the poverty line are eligible for subsidized private insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s online exchanges. So Daugaard asked if South Dakota could expand Medicaid to cover just people up to 100 percent of poverty — $11,670 for an individual or $23,850 for a family of four.
Negotiations with federal officials haven’t yet advanced to whether those specifics might be acceptable.
"We don’t know yet if the feds will accept what the governor is proposing, or if they’ll have some kind of counter-offer," said Venhuizen.
Last week, Daugaard said he could expand Medicaid without prior authorization from lawmakers. That could be necessary even with an expedited approval process from the federal government.
It’s possible South Dakota could reach an informal Medicaid deal before its session ends on March 14. But a formal waiver request would take weeks more.
"He’ll want to have a discussion with legislative leaders about what would need to happen and how that would work," Venhuizen said of Daugaard.
Rave said Republican legislators would be open to Medicaid expansion on the right terms. But Rave was skeptical of getting anything done before the Legislature leaves town on March 14.
"It’s just awfully late," Rave said. "We need to stop and be a little thoughtful here. If it takes calling a special session in a month or two months or whatever… there’s certainly nothing wrong with calling a special session to get that right."
Daugaard can expand Medicaid himself, without legislative action
Gov. Dennis Daugaard can expand Medicaid without consulting with lawmakers, the governor said Thursday.
But Daugaard said if he did pursue Medicaid expansion, he would at least informally make sure the Legislature was on board with his plan, first.
That’s because even a unilateral Medicaid expansion would need to be retroactively approved by the Legislature in the following year’s budget revision.
"I would be a little bit cautious about (expanding Medicaid) without the Legislature’s overt agreement to change the budget," Daugaard said. "But we could evaluate when that was needed and whether a special session would be necessary."
The Affordable Care Act asks states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover low-income people earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line — $15,521 for an individual or $31,721 for a family of four. Under the law, the federal government promises to pay 90 percent or more of the cost, including 100 percent for the first several years.
Daugaard has asked the federal government for flexibility to do a partial expansion of Medicaid to just the poorest South Dakotans earning less than 100 percent of the poverty line — $11,670 for an individual or $23,850 for a family of four. People earning more than that are eligible right now to buy subsidized private insurance on the new health care exchanges.
The governor has also asked the federal government if South Dakota could impose a work requirement on Medicaid eligibility.
He made the request at the end of January. So far, Daugaard said the state has received neither formal nor informal word on its request.
Earlier Thursday, Republican legislative leaders suggested they were okay with Daugaard expanding Medicaid without formal approval from lawmakers.
"If that’s something that the governor and the departments decide to do, they have a right to do that," said Rep. Justin Cronin, assistant leader of the House Republicans. "We can always have a special session, if we decide to do so and don’t agree with the policies."
House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, and Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave, R-Baltic, agreed.
"It’s an adminsitrative decision at this point. It’s not a legislative decision," Gosch said. "So the administration, if granted that waiver, could go through with it without a special session."
Lawmakers this year have voted, largely along party lines, to kill multiple Democratic bills calling to expand Medicaid. But in so doing, many Republicans have expressed a willingness to expand Medicaid — if it can be done on South Dakota’s terms.
The first year of Medicaid expansion would have only a few million dollars in administrative costs, which Daugaard could pay for out of a $20 million Medicaid reserve fund he established several years ago. And the state’s practice has been to resist defining the state’s Medicaid program in law, giving the administration flexibility to make changes without legislative approval for each one.
Amending the budget to allow for spending hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money could be done after the fact, leaders said.
Democrats, who have pushed for Medicaid expansion, said they’d prefer the Legislature approve Medicaid expansion during its current session, which ends in March. But House Democratic Leader Bernie Hunhoff said he’s fine with Daugaard moving on his own.
"I don’t care how it happens, as long as it happens," said Hunhoff.
Daugaard said if he did decide to pursue Medicaid expansion, he would likely consult with lawmakers to make sure he had backing before going ahead.
"I would have to visit with the Legislature about that," Daugaard said. "This is a decision I should not unilaterally make… I think the Legislature has to play a part as well."
“I don’t know where to start,” the Democratic state representative from Brookings said Tuesday on the floor of the House of Representatives. “We spend an hour a day doing these resolutions that do nothing. … Don’t waste our time with something that has no impact on the people of South Dakota.”
Hawley’s outburst came amid a debate about a resolution opposing the Common Core State Standards. And he’s far from the only lawmaker upset this year at the elevated number of nonbinding resolutions, which declare the Legislature’s opinion but don’t carry the force of law.
There’s “a clear sense” that lawmakers have dealt with too many resolutions this year, said House Majority Leader David Lust, R-Rapid City.
Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, said she’s heard complaints from constituents about the time lawmakers spend on resolutions.
“I’ve never seen as many resolutions as I’ve seen this year,” said Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, who has served 20 years on and off in the Legislature since the 1970s.
In fact, this year’s 32 nonbinding resolutions are more than either chamber of the Legislature has seen in any year since 1988.
Of the 32, Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, is responsible for 11.
That’s more than all 35 members of the Senate combined have introduced this year, and more than the combined 70 members of the House — including himself — introduced in 2013.
“It’s my fourth year up here. It’s my final year in the Legislature. These are hot-button issues,” Nelson said.
But Nelson also is a candidate for U.S. Senate, running against four other Republicans for the GOP nomination.
Some lawmakers see his resolutions, on topics ranging from the Affordable Care Act to deficit spending to abortion, as spending the Legislature’s time on political gestures.
“Some people need to stop bringing resolutions that serve their own sole interests only,” said Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, in floor debate Wednesday afternoon on another Nelson resolution, honoring former presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Afterward, Nelson called Hajek’s comment “ignorant” and “inappropriate.”
He said his resolutions dealt with serious issues, or matters of concern to voters around the state.
But Nelson also has used his resolutions tactically in the Legislature. After lawmakers go on record endorsing a principle or concept in a resolution, on more than one occasion Nelson has called them out later when they oppose a bill dealing with a similar subject.
“That’s the theory behind some of these resolutions, to build consensus and education to the public and also the Legislature,” Nelson said.
Though Nelson has sponsored more, and more controversial, resolutions than anyone else, he’s not the sole contributor to this year’s swarm.
Even subtracting the Nelson-sponsored resolutions, the rest of the House members have sponsored more than any House since 2005.
The Senate, meanwhile, has just seven resolutions, similar to the six that senators introduced both in 2013 and 2012.
The experience this year of debating and voting on resolutions has lawmakers ready to put a stop to it. Lust said next year’s legislative rules will limit resolutions somehow — possibly moving up the deadline for their submission, or limiting the number each lawmaker can bring forward.
Tim Rounds, SD House slap down Nelson on Ron Paul resolution
Rep. Stace Nelson, who has introduced a lot of resolutions this year, just got some major pushback with his attempt to sponsor a resolution honoring former presidential candidate and congressman Ron Paul.
Instead of simply defeating the resolution, Rep. Tim Rounds — brother to Nelson’s U.S. Senate rival Mike Rounds — moved to amend Nelson’s resolution, deleting everything about Paul and changing instead to a commemoration of every person to represent South Dakota in Congress in its history.
During the debate, Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, obliquely criticized Nelson:
"We need to move on," Hajek said. "Maybe the message here is some people need to stop bringing resolutions that serve their own sole interests only."
Nelson and a number of his allies were incensed. He called the hijacking “inappropriate” and “one of the most distasteful” things one lawmaker could do to another.
But on a voice vote, the House adopted Rounds’ alternative language, then voted 48-16 to pass the amended resolution. The no votes on that came from Nelson and other very conservative lawmakers.
More on resolutions later — I’ve got a preplanned story on the large number of resolutions this year. Today seems to have been a good day for that to run.
Stace Nelson and Cory Heidelberger are both up in arms about the Legislature’s habit of passing “vehicle bills” — empty bills that do nothing but exist to be amended later with a more substantive proposal. I’ve heard from a few lobbyists with similar thoughts about vehicle bills and “hoghousing,” where the text of a bill is entirely amended.
Cory proposes as a reform the banning of vehicle bills. After six years or so of observing the legislative process, I’m not sure that’s the most urgent reform. But stepping off my normal pedestal of disinterest (as I do occasionally, and only on process issues), here’s what makes sense as a good-government reform of the hoghousing process:
• Any time a bill is amended with a hoghouse, the measure itself cannot pass out of committee or a House on that same day. That means that if a committee meets on Monday and completely changes the bill, it has to wait until at least Tuesday before it can pass the bill. That means the public, and interested parties, have at least a full day to examine the change and talk to lawmakers before the measure passed.
This would also mean, as a practical effect, moving the deadline up by one day to hoghouse a measure. That’s because you couldn’t pass a hoghouse an amendment on the last day for a measure to advance out of a committee or chamber. But I think lawmakers could adapt pretty easily to this rule.
• Secondly, and more complicatedly, I think it would be a good government step if any time a bill is hoghoused, it has to have at least one committee hearing before it can be passed. That would give people a chance to give formal public comment before a final vote. So if a vehicle bill passes the House, passed a Senate committee, and was then hoghoused on the floor, the House couldn’t simply concur with the Senate version and send it to the governor, thus dodging any public hearing on final version of the bill. Instead, the House would have to refer it to a committee first.
This could be tricky to implement, and I haven’t thought through the full implications. But in the interests of a transparent process, I think these two reforms would address a lot of the concerns people have about vehicle bills.
One of the most passionate issues this session was a set of bills pitting religious liberty up against gay rights. I wrote about the issue, and how lawmakers gave a firm rejection to those bills but didn’t resolve the bigger issue, in Monday’s paper.
But of course South Dakota is not the only state in the country to deal with similar bills, setting forth the right for people to refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation. Most notably, unlike in South Dakota where each one of those bills died in its first committee, the Arizona Legislature passed its sexual orientation law. It’s now waiting for a signature or veto from the governor.
So I was intrigued to see some passing comments on Twitter last night from writer and commentator Josh Barro, putting these bills in a larger context. Barro, who is openly gay and in favor of same-sex marriage and gay rights, noted that an “aim of gay rights campaigners is to make opposition to gay marriage and other gay rights socially unacceptable.”
The social conservatives pushing this year’s sexual orientation bills in South Dakota were aware of that, too.
"They won’t stop until there’s legitimization of gay marriage," said Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls. "They’re not going to get it out of the traditional marriage crowd, so they can only muzzle them."
Center-right commentator Ross Douthat expressed a similar thought in 2012, which I originally blogged about in the context of a backlash to Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposed speech to the National Association of the Deaf:
…over a longer time horizon, the most enduring victories are often won by movements and factions that succeed in branding opposing views as not only mistaken but unthinkable, not only foolish but immoral, and that use stigma as well as suasion to cement the gains that they’ve achieved. This is what’s been happening in the gay marriage debate these last 10 years and more: At the popular level, the country is still divided (and perhaps more divided than polling suggests), but at the elite level and within the Democratic Party’s upper reaches, especially, what was a consensus understanding of marriage just two decades ago has become so associated with bigotry and reaction that a sitting president facing a difficult re-election campaign has been forced to abandon the politically-safer “civil unions yes, but marriage not just yet” position for the uncertain consequences of being for marriage, period.
I can’t help but be impressed by the gay marriage movement’s ability to transform the terms of the marriage debate so completely and comprehensively. Politics is mostly the art of fighting over a muddled middle ground, but this is the way the world gets well and truly changed: Not through conciliation, but through conquest.
Which makes the second half of Barro’s analysis also apt. Social conservatives, he said, are ”desperate to retain (the) idea that reasonable (people) can disagree on gay marriage.”
That’s the spirit, Barro said, animating bills like Arizona’s SB1062.
"The aspect of religious liberty, them tolerating my deep-felt convictions, is completely lost," Hickey complained last week.
And in light of what Douthat observes as the success of the same-sex marriage movement in redefining the debate, I found these closing comments from my interview with Hickey, among the most outspoken gay marriage opponents in the Legislature, especially apt:
There’s no real anti-gay thing going on up there (in the Legislature) any more. (Lawmakers) have traditional views on marriage. I think the general sense is, these bills aren’t necessary. we have the constitutional amendment. There may be just a couple (lawmakers) I can think of who just have a burr about gays. It seems like there’s an extraordinary amount of animosity from them. I hope people don’t sense that from me.
Many years, South Dakota lawmakers treat their mid-session “crossover” deadline like a college student writing a paper — they delay until the last minute and rush to get everything done at the last minute. Just last year, the House was in session past 9 p.m. at least one night as it tried to take final action on every single House bill.
This year, though, both houses finished on Crossover Day by around 5 p.m. And none of the bills debated today were particularly controversial or close. In the Senate, a lot of measures passed unanimously. Some bills died, many of them appropriations bills needing a two-thirds majority. The fiercest fight was over a bill dealing with fishing licenses for the elderly — not exactly the stuff headlines are made of.
The big issues still alive this session include domestic violence reform, sex-selective abortions and texting bans, in addition to a lot of budgetary issues.