Senate passes its texting ban, sets up clash with House version

South Dakota is one step closer to a ban on texting while driving Friday after the state Senate voted 26-7 to adopt a ban.

But the Senate ban differs in a few key respects from another texting ban that earlier passed the House of Representatives. The two measures need to be reconciled in order to become law.

Sen. Mike Vehle, a longtime champion of a texting ban, made several concessions with his measure that passed the Senate Friday. Unlike his original proposal, a violation of his bill’s texting ban would be a petty offense, not a misdemeanor. And law enforcement could only ticket someone for texting while driving if they pulled a driver over for something else.

"If I was a benevolent dictator, this would not be my bill of choice," Vehle said.

He made the concessions to try to win support in the House, which has traditionally resisted texting bans.

Several senators criticized Vehle’s ban for being too weak, not too strong.

"I support a texting ban, but I don’t think this goes far enough," said Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls, who last year was an outspoken opponent of texting bans.

This year, though, House members have passed their own texting ban. It also makes texting while driving a “secondary” offense, so police can’t pull someone over just for texting.

But the House version also, unlike the Senate’s, overrides local text bans like Sioux Falls’.

Those bans are often stricter than both proposed statewide bans, allowing law enforcement to pull people over for texting.

If the two chambers are unable to resolve their differences, the issue could go to a conference committee at the end of the session.

Common Core study defeated

A diverse coalition of senators defeated a proposed study of the Common Core standards currently in place in South Dakota Thursday.

The bill setting up and funding a study of the standards got 18 yes votes and 16 no votes in the Senate — but because it appropriated money, it needed 24 yes votes to pass.

Supporters said it was good to examine the standards, which didn’t cause much fuss when adopted years ago but which have become increasingly controversial. The standards have already been implemented and millions of dollars spent training teachers in the standards.

Most Democratic senators, who largely support Common Core, voted against the study. So did some of the most conservative lawmakers, who fiercely oppose Common Core and worried the study was set up to endorse the standards.

"This bill does nothing constructive," said Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls. "It’s a waste of time and a waste of money."

Also voting no were several Republican members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, including chair Deb Peters and vice-chair Larry Tidemann. The original bill set aside $100,000 to fund the study, though a last-minute amendment changed that to $1 in a procedural move that left the two-thirds vote requirement in tact.

Another Common Core-related bill, imposing a temporary moratorium on any new educational standards and slowing down the process of adding standards after that, easily passed and heads to the House.

So did a bill protecting the privacy of student data, which was aimed at fears that Common Core could expose that data.

South Dakota legislators by the numbers

In just a few months in the South Dakota Legislature, new Sen. David Omdahl has “made a reputation for himself of being an easy no,” his former majority leader Russ Olson said, last March.

Now you can put a number on that reputation: 64.3 percent.

That’s the amount of time Omdahl voted with his average colleague in 2013, his first year in the Legislature.

It seems like a lot. But that number is actually the lowest figure in the entire South Dakota Senate, a body marked by high levels of agreement, even between Democrats and Republicans.

The same is true in the House of Representatives, with the big caveat that a loosely aligned group of conservative Republicans often split with both Democrats and mainstream Republicans.

Compared to the U.S. Congress and most other states, South Dakota has very low levels of partisanship in its Legislature.

That’s the conclusion of an in-depth quantitative analysis of voting patterns in the Legislature, the subject of my story in today’s Argus Leader.

Here’s what it looks like:


This “network graph” is a visualization of voting patterns in the South Dakota House of Representatives from 2011 to 2012. Each circle represents a lawmaker. Every line between two lawmakers means those two lawmakers vote the same way 70 percent or more of the time — a “connection.” Lawmakers with many connections are drawn together, while those with few connections are pushed apart, though positions have been edited for visual clarity. Larger circles reflect lawmakers with more connections. 

The graph shows that the House divides into three general groups. The central mass of mainstream Republicans are clustered in the middle. Part of the same group, but distinct, are Democrats, who frequently vote with Republicans in the South Dakota Legislature. Finally, a group of around a dozen conservative Republicans are off to the side, reflecting their habit of often voting against mainstream Republicans as well as Democrats.

(This is a somewhat different version of the teaser I put up on Friday.)

The chart is even more interesting with names attached to the circles. You can take a look at them here, and an interactive version here.

Voting analyses like this have far more uses than just this sort of superficial visualization, though, as neat as it is. The dataset behind that graph includes a list of the percent of the time every single lawmaker voted with every single lawmaker.

So picking a legislator — say, Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls — you can see that since 2011, he voted 71.2 percent of the time with Rep. Don Kopp, R-Rapid City, 64.1 percent of the time with Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, and 80.0 percent of the time with Rep. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls.

I highlighted a number of interesting conclusions from the project in today’s article.

I’ll be returning to this data in the coming days and months for more analysis, since it’s a rich information source and one of the few quantitative ways to look at the South Dakota Legislature.

In the coming days I’ll also be making the full dataset public for other people to analyze.

Behind a legislative ambush

My (much-delayed, due to other news) story in today’s paper looks at an amusing incident in the final week of the legislative session — when senators ganged up on an innocuous bill brought by Sen. David Omdahl and “pecked (it) to death.”

If you’re so curious, you can listen to the exchange here:

Below, after the jump, is a partial, edited transcript — taking out some of the filler:

Read More

Tags: David Omdahl

Another defeat for Hickey’s speeding bill, another smokeout coming?

Rep. Steve Hickey’s effort to penalize repeat speeders was defeated in a Senate committee Wednesday — but he’s getting used to it.

The 4-3 defeat came after a House committee also defeated the same bill — to which Hickey responded by using a parliamentary maneuver to force it to the full House.

Now he’s planning on counting his votes and possibly trying the same maneuver in the Senate.

His proposal would put speeding back on the “points system,” whereby drivers are assessed points on their license for moving violations. Currently drivers receive points for offenses such as drunk driving or running stop signs, but speeding is explicitly excluded.

Hickey would give drivers between one and three points for every speeding offense, depending on how fast they go. Drivers have their license suspended if they receive 15 points in 12 months.

He pitched it as a way to crack down on repeat speeders who collect 10 or more tickets per year, and save lives by preventing accidents.

“The state has a duty to revoke the driving privilege of those who persist in driving dangerously,” Hickey said.

The Senate Transportation Committee disagreed. Several members worried the proposal would sweep in all drivers and not just the worst speeders. Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls, said he’d prefer to change the current reckless driving law to allow police to give repeat speeders more serious tickets.

After the bill’s defeat, Hickey said he’d consider using the “smokeout” maneuver which successfully revived the speeding bill in the House to bring it to the Senate floor as well.

“We’ve got to count our votes,” Hickey said. “We’re not done talking about it this year.”

Bill allowing euthanizing injured deer passes

It was near Edgemont last spring when Sen. Mark Kirkeby drew his pistol and broke the law.

“I did not hesitate,” Kirkeby told a legislative committee Monday morning. “I pulled over, I did pull out my pistol, and I did put her out of her misery. I thought it was the humane thing to do. I had no idea that I violated the law.”

The recipient of Kirkeby’s gunshot was a badly injured deer, struck by a pickup truck. And while no one has ever been prosecuted for it, euthanizing an injured deer isn’t allowed under current South Dakota law.

Until, at least, House Bill 1144’s probable passage.

That measure, which passed the Senate Transportation committee Monday morning, would legalize the euthanization of deer and antelope that have been “seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident.”

If the full Senate approves the bill, the House will have to accept Senate amendments or negotiate a compromise. If both houses approve the same version of the bill, it would then go to Gov. Dennis Daugaard to be signed into law.

“What sense does it make to prevent the euthanization of a crippled deer?” asked Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron. “House Bill 1144 does not require anyone to really do anything that he or she is not willing or capable of doing.”

A representative of the state Department of Game, Fish & Parks was present but did not testify for or against the bill. The representative, Tony Leif, said the department would endorse Kirkeby’s actions shooting the injured deer — and those of Reps. Charlie Hoffman and Betty Olson, who also admitted to euthanizing injured wildlife.

The committee amended the bill at Sen. Jeff Monroe’s request, removing the petty offense for people who fail to report a euthanized deer.

Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls, voted no, saying the measure seemed fine for rural areas but dangerous in or near cities.

SD Senate passes ban on texting while driving

South Dakota’s Legislature is halfway toward banning texting while driving.

A ban passed the state Senate Tuesday and now heads to the House, where similar measures have been defeated in recent years.

The 24-9 vote saw lawmakers endorse the argument that texting while driving is uniquely dangerous and worth singling out for a ban.

“Texting and driving is dangerous, it’s deadly and it deserves to be illegal,” said Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell.

Overruled were objections from lawmakers who said the law was unnecessary, because South Dakota already has a law banning careless driving.

“Why are you singling out texting while driving?” said Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls. “All of these issues fall under the existing careless driving law.”

An attempt by Sen. Ryan Maher, R-Isabel, to limit the ban solely to the state’s larger cities, was defeated.

Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said he traditionally opposes safety laws such as those requiring seat belts or helmets. But he said texting bans are different and earn his support.

“If I make a choice to not wear a seat belt, that affects my personal safety. If I make a choice while I’m driving down the highway to start texting, that affects my personal safety, but also everyone who’s sharing the highway with me,” Rhoden said.

The ban on texting while driving now heads to the House, where it’s expected to face a tough fight.

Statewide ban on texting while driving passes committee

South Dakota senators endorsed a statewide ban on texting while driving Friday.

Advocates including law enforcement, insurance companies, the state’s cities and victims of car crashes where texting was involved all urged adoption of the ban in more than an hour of sometimes-emotional testimony.

“It is time something gets done so maybe another family won’t have to go through this pain,” said Janean Christensen, whose husband Jon was killed by a texting driver.

That driver, Justin Iburg, 22, of Mitchell, also testified before the committee, urging passage of the ban.

After passing the Senate’s transportation committee, the ban now heads to the full Senate, which must pass or defeat the proposal by Wednesday afternoon.

Opponents said the exiting careless driving law was enough to handle drivers distracted by text messages.

“I think enforcement is difficult,” said Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls. “I think we have an existing careless driving law that we need to boost the fine on and stop it that way.”

But Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, and other supporters said enforcing the texting ban isn’t the point of the proposed law.

“I’m going to be the first one here to admit it’s going to be difficult to enforce,” Vehle said. “To me, it’s not about tickets, it’s not about fines. It’s about a culture of not texting and driving.”

Five members of the committee voted to pass the texting while driving ban: Sens. Bob Ewing, Shantel Krebs, Larry Lucas, Ernie Otten and Vehle. Two voted no: Omdahl and Sen. Jeff Monroe.

Criminal justice reform passes Senate

Amid a chorus of praise, South Dakota’s criminal justice reform package passed the state senate Thursday by an overwhelming margin.

Only two senators voted against the bill, Senate Bill 70. It’s a complex package focused on finding alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders. The goal of the bill is to slow or reverse the growth in South Dakota’s prison population, avoiding the need for building new prisons.

The bill, proposed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard with support from the state attorney general and Supreme Court, has bipartisan backing in the Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson said the bill was both tough and smart on crime.

“I’ve had good friends tell me they can’t believe I’m carrying this bill, and this is soft on crime,” he said. “I disagree.”

Democratic senator Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, got emotional when urging people to support the bill.

In his 14 years in the Legislature, Bradford said, “to me, this is the most outstanding thing that’s been done, bar any.”

The only votes against the bill, which passed 31-2, came from Sens. Tim Begalka and David Omdahl, both Republicans. Neither senator spoke against the bill during the floor discussion.

SB 70 now heads to the House of Representatives.

Teen driving study applauded, but lawmakers cautious

Members of the South Dakota Legislature’s transportation committees praised members of a task force that studied teen driving, but stopped short of endorsing their four proposed bills Thursday morning.

The task force, which included legislators, state officials and members of the public, studied South Dakota’s high teen driving crash rate and recommended four laws: banning young teens from using cell phones while driving, limiting the passengers they can carry, requiring more instruction before they can drive on their own and creating a statewide driver education coordinator.

Read an introduction to the proposed changes here.

Lawmakers were enthusiastic about the task force’s work, praising the research they gathered and the uncompensated time they spent gathering it.

But the description of the bills by Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, didn’t win any immediate converts.

Most lawmakers on the committee said simply that they’d keep an open mind about the legislation until they see the specific language.

The bill that would ban teen drivers on instruction or restricted permits from using electronic devices while driving drew particular skepticism.

Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls, said he has doubts about the enforcability of bans on mobile phone use.

Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea, agreed. But Otten said that while he’s opposed to blanket bans on texting while driving, he’s open to such a measure for teen drivers as a special case.

Thursday was simply an informational hearing for the teen driving task force. Tieszen and Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, will now gather co-sponsors for the bills and formally introduce them. Then they’ll be assigned to a committee and have a formal hearing and vote.

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