Rave replaces Olson as Senate majority leader

A state senator from Baltic was elected Saturday to be the new majority leader in the South Dakota Senate.

Sen. Tim Rave, a Republican, replaced Sen. Russell Olson of Wentworth in the top spot after Olson resigned for a new job.

For Rave, it was the third high-profile leadership position in his decade-plus in the Legislature. He spent two years as Speaker of the House before being elected to the Senate, and then spent two more years as chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party.

"I’m really humbled to be elected by my peers to be their voice," Rave said. "It’s pretty special."

Rave said he didn’t have any particular policy goals as majority leader.

"My job is to make sure that our voice is heard, both to the executive branch and to the public, to get our message out and make sure we speak as uniformly as we can," Rave said.

Sen. Jason Frerichs, the Wilmot Democrat who is the Senate minority leader, said he’s worked well with Rave in the past.

"We served together. He was Speaker and I was a freshman member in the House," Frerichs said. "At that time he was real fair to me, and I expect that to continue in his new role."

Rave holds an unusually vulnerable seat for a party leader. He won reelection last year with just 51.2 percent of the vote over former legislator Dan Ahlers, a Democrat. Olson and his predecessor, Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls, regularly won 55 percent or more of the vote.

After Rave was elected majority leader at the Senate Republicans’ meeting in Pierre, the Republicans then elected Sen. Dan Lederman of Dakota Dunes to replace Rave as assistant majority leader.

Sen. Reid Holien of Watertown was chosen to replace Lederman as a party whip.

The other two Senate Republican whips are Sen. Larry Rhoden of Union Center and Sen. Ryan Maher of Isabel.

Legislators petition Johnson on Glass-Steagall

A bipartisan group of South Dakota legislators asked Sen. Tim Johnson to hold “immediate, emergency hearings” about reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, a repealed 1933 law that, among other things, separated commercial banks and investment banks.

"There is strong support for the Glass-Steagall Bills in the Senate and the House," the petition reads. "Our people are facing economic and social ruin. The collapse of Detroit, which used to be the U.S. arsenal of democracy, is the handwriting on the wall for economic ruin across our once strong United States."

It’s signed by an interesting mix of Democrats and conservative Republicans. Democratic signers include Jim Bradford, Jason Frerichs, Dennis Feickert, Kevin Killer, Dean Schrempp and former lawmaker Frank Kloucek. Republican signers are Tim Begalka, Ryan Maher, Stace Nelson, Betty Olson, and former lawmakers Patty Miller and Lyndell Petersen (whose name is misspelled “Peterson”).

Momentum for the call came from the successful passage this year of a joint resolution supporting reinstating Glass-Steagal. Senate Concurrent Resolution 6 narrowly passed the state Senate 19-16, but overwhelmingly passed the House 67-2.

The petition was released to the press by activist Tim Luke.

But Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, isn’t interested in revisiting Glass-Steagall.

"Throughout my Chairmanship on the Banking Committee I have made oversight of Wall Street reform a top priority and have held a number of hearings on this issue of systemic risk – most recently on July 11," Johnson said in a statement. "We have learned at those hearings that most economists say a return to Glass-Steagall would not address today’s challenges. Size, risk and complexity are not synonymous, and I believe Wall Street Reform passed by Congress in 2010 provides the tools necessary to end ‘too big to fail.’"

Frerichs’ political future

State senator Jason Frerichs is in the news today after the New York Times quoted him calling Democratic Senate candidate Rick Weiland too liberal.

“I don’t see Rick coming across as being a moderate,” Mr. Frerichs continued, later adding, “There isn’t currently that type of clear dialogue happening on progressive versus moderate for a Democratic Party candidate. I think that dialogue needs to happen based on what we want to see the direction of this party be in our state because we certainly need to be more relevant.”

Frerichs is the Democratic leader in the state Senate, which makes him among the highest-ranked Democratic officials in the state given the party’s dearth of statewide office holders. He’s also a close ally of Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and a representative of the moderate wing of the state Democratic Party.

All of this makes me wonder whether Jason Frerichs has higher ambitions than the state Senate.

The short answer: he might.

"It’s something that I think about, but it’s not a priority right now for me," Frerichs said of a run for higher office. "It’s fun to kind of dream, but at the same time reality is here right now."

He said he’s had “some encouragement,” mostly but not exclusively from “other moderates — not even necessarily Democrats.”

Frerichs, 28, said that “just for fun” he checked to see whether he’d be 30 by January 2014, the constitutional requirement to serve in the U.S. Senate. He would by just over a month.

He downplayed the possibility that he’d challenge Weiland in the primary, but didn’t rule it out. Indeed, Frerichs said he hopes “there’s some options” for Democrats, though he also said he could be “very comfortable with Rick Weiland” as a candidate if a moderate challenger doesn’t emerge.

Considering candidacy, Herseth Sandlin draws fire from the left

During her years in Congress, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin emphasized her moderation and her leadership in the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats group. It served her well in several elections as she racked up big majorities in a Republican-leaning state.

But as Herseth Sandlin considers a run for the U.S. Senate, her Blue Dog past is causing problems as some Democrats criticize her for being too conservative.

"I’m perplexed as to why she calls herself a Democrat," said Anna Madsen, a Democratic activist from Sioux Falls. "Her votes reflect something quite the opposite."

Madsen and others have taken to the Internet to rally progressive Democrats against Herseth Sandlin and to try to find a more liberal alternative — such as U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, the son of retiring U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson.

Several votes in particular stick in the craw of liberal Democrats. Herseth Sandlin voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2009, though she later also opposed repealing that health care reform law championed by most Democrats. In 2004, she voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"On a number of very important issues over the several years she was in Congress, she failed the test of being a strong Democrat and representing the core Democratic values we value the most," said Ryan Casey, a leader in a movement publicly urging Brendan Johnson to run for the office.

That’s not how Herseth Sandlin’s supporters see it.

"There’s no doubt that Stephanie is a Democrat," said Clint Sargent, a Sioux Falls attorney who has backed Herseth Sandlin since her early campaigns. "Stephanie believes that there are places where government can do great things for our state and our country. That’s the reason I’m a Democrat. That’s the reason why many of our friends are Democrats. We think government can be very, very helpful for people, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing like so many on the other side of the aisle think these days."

But Sargent and other Herseth Sandlin supporters didn’t try to argue Herseth Sandlin was actually the liberal people like Madsen would prefer.

Jason Frerichs, the Democratic leader in the state senate and a longtime supporter of Herseth Sandlin, said the vote against the Affordable Care Act can be “hard to get over” for many Democrats, but he downplayed it in favor of her other work while in Congress.

"It’s one vote and it’s one issue that we can agree to disagree with the (former) congresswoman," Frerichs said. "That’s the way the process works. If we’re going to beat someone up over a handful of votes, I think it’s a little bit short-sighted."

Instead, he said Herseth Sandlin’s work on agriculture and veterans issues made her a strong Democratic congresswoman.

Sargent said he likes that Herseth Sandlin sometimes breaks with the Democratic mainstream.

"What I like about Stephanie is she’s pragmatic. She’s not an ideologue " he said. "If you look at anybody who fits the definition of a moderate, that means they’re not going to vote the party line every single time."

Madsen said it’s how often Herseth Sandlin votes against the party line, and the importance of the issues on which she does, that frustrate her.

"There’s a variety of votes she’s made (against proposals) that are foundational, not peripheral, to Democratic core principles," Madsen said, referring to votes against cap-and-trade and for the Bush tax cuts as well as the gay marriage and Affordable Care Act votes.

Herseth Sandlin declined to comment.

Political scientists say it’s no secret that Herseth Sandlin was conservative — for a Democrat. But her voting record was still very distinct from even the least conservative Republicans in Congress, said Keith Poole, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who co-created the highly regarded DW-NOMINATE system to analyze congressional voting.

"She’s on the conservative side of the Democratic Party. Of course, you have to take ‘conservative’ with a grain of salt," Poole said. "She is basically on the center-left."

According to DW-NOMINATE, Herseth Sandlin’s voting record on fiscal and economic issues was more conservative than 80 to 90 percent of all congressional Democrats during her time in the House — but more liberal than every single Republican House member during that same time, putting her near the center of the body.

Historically, Herseth Sandlin voted more conservatively than every single Democrat representing South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana or Wyoming in the House and Senate over the past 40 years, though her scores were close to Democrats such as Tim Johnson, Max Baucus of Montana and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota. Past South Dakota Democrats Tom Daschle, George McGovern and Jim Abourezk were all considerably more liberal, while the least conservative Republican, Larry Pressler, was significantly more conservative, according to the DW-NOMINATE system.

Emily Wanless, a political science professor at Augustana College, called Herseth Sandlin a “classic case of a Democrat operating in a red state.”

"If you look at the Senate elections of Arkansas right now and Alaska, there are several members of Congress who are dealing with the same thing — they’re never going to able to be as liberal as some Democrats in their states would like them to be, because they’re in the minority," Wanless said.

Casey acknowledged that Democrats from conservative states have sometimes had to “disassociate themselves from the Democratic Party” in order to survive politically. But he said Herseth Sandlin went beyond what may have been necessary. As an example, Casey pointed to Tim Johnson, who voted for the Affordable Care Act and against the gay marriage ban before coming out in favor of same-sex marriage last month.

"I see a real desire out there from progressive Democrats who want someone who’s not afraid and certainly even proud to be a progressive Democrat," Casey said.

Ben Nesselhuf, the chairman of the South Dakota Democratic Party, said much of the criticism of Herseth Sandlin is “coming from a group of people that are trying to push another candidate into the race.”

"I think that (liberal) South Dakota Democrats understand that the differences between them and Stephanie are so small compared to the differences between Stephanie and the Republican nominee, whoever that’s going to be," Nesselhuf said.

Despite her criticism of Herseth Sandlin, Madsen said she would support her if she ended up as the party’s nominee — if reluctantly, and while keeping pressure on Herseth Sandlin to “be a Democrat.” But Madsen, skeptical about whether nominating moderates is really the best way to win, said a candidate who unequivocally endorsed Democratic principles might be better for the party in the long term.

"I wonder if it wouldn’t be worth it to throw all of our efforts to an election, and possibly losing it, just so we could reclaim our identity," Madsen said.

SD politicians’ March Madness picks

Here’s a confession: college sports have never been my thing. I went to a small, D-III school, as did everyone in my immediate family and much of my extended family. So I’ve got no real loyalties to any university athletics. Generally I prefer to watch pro sports.

So I won’t be filling out a bracket this year. I wouldn’t have much more to go on other than seedings and mascots, and I don’t want to be that guy.

But the people I interview and write about on a daily basis have no such weaknesses. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Sen. Tim Johnson, Rep. Kristi Noem and Sen. John Thune have all filled out brackets for the men’s basketball tournament, and all agreed to release them so I — and, more importantly, you, the reader — could take a look at them.

Spoiler: They all think the SDSU men are going to do well. Some even think the Jackrabbits are going to do REALLY well.

Not only did all four top leaders pick the Jackrabbits to upset better-seeded Michigan in the Round of 64, but all of them also picked SDSU to win in the Round of 32 over Virginia Commonwealth University.

The four combined to pick three different national champions. No one team was picked by all of them to reach the Final Four.

Below are their brackets — plus a few more bonus brackets.

UPDATE: Drue Aman, an Argus Leader Sports copy editor, was kind enough to send over his analysis of the brackets.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard

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Daugaard stuck with the home state team for a few rounds, but even South Dakota’s governor doesn’t think SDSU can beat the number one-seeded Kansas team — Daugaard’s pick to win it all, over Duke.

AMAN: A couple upsets (namely No. 4 St. Louis over No. 1 Louisville, No. 6 Butler over No. 2 Miami) coincide with the theme of parity this college basketball season. Not too outlandish of a bracket, however, as three No. 1 seeds and No. 2 Duke comprise the Final Four. South Dakota State also wins two games in this bracket. Are the mathematical odds due for a No. 13 to reach the Sweet Sixteen? Maybe. It’s happened four times since 1985.

Sen. Tim Johnson

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South Dakota’s senior senator, on the other hand, has no problems seeing the boys from Brookings toppling Kansas — or Indiana, or mighty top-seeded Louisville. Johnson’s bracket has SDSU winning it all.

AMAN: This bracket says a couple things: 1) The folks charged with assigning seeds know exactly what they’re doing (Aside from Michigan State, South Dakota State and Minnesota, no upset picks in the bracket); 2) We’ve seen but a small sample of just how good SDSU is. Maybe so, but the Jacks are obvious long-shots. About 300:1 to win their region of the bracket, according to Las Vegas.

Rep. Kristi Noem

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If you get a sense of déja vu looking at Noem’s bracket, you’re not alone. Like Daugaard, she has Kansas as the eventual champions, beating SDSU in the regional semifinals. Unlike Daugaard, Noem thinks Louisville will be the runner-up. (Noem, it’s worth noting, is the only SDSU alum of the bunch — Daugaard, Johnson and Thune all went to USD.)

AMAN: New Mexico’s selection as a Final Four team makes sense when considering how rare all four No. 1 seeds play that deep into the tournament (only time: 2009). Four 11 and 12 seeds (Bucknell, Minnesota, Oregon and Belmont) reach the Sweet 16 in this bracket which, though unlikely, more than one traditionally make it that far. South Dakota State beating Michigan and Virginia Commonwealth before falling to Kansas would do untold things for the Jackrabbits’ program, if what Noem predicts comes true.

Sen. John Thune

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Hoops-mad Thune went with Noem and Daugaard in seeing the Jackrabbits falling to Kansas. But KU won’t go too much further if Thune’s bracket proves right — they’ll beat Georgetown but then lose to Miami, who will in turn fall to ultimate champion Louisville.

AMAN: Two No.1’s and two No.2’s for a Final Four should augur well for accuracy (it appears Thune began writing Duke to beat Louisville in the Midwest regional final before changing his pick, which in the long history of my bracket-filling days, I can relate to a miserably great deal). Overall, a safe bracket with an agreeable amount of upset picks and the tournament’s top seed (Louisville) winning it all. I believe I saw Thune verbally place SDSU in the Final Four, also?

Not enough for you? Here’s a few other brackets from the people who’ve responded to my requests so far:

First Lady Linda Daugaard

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While her husband tempered his Jackrabbit fandom by picking Kansas, First Lady Linda Daugaard sees SDSU going all the way — over Creighton.

State Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs

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Surprisingly, proud SDSU alum Frerichs has the Jackrabbits exiting earlier in the tournament than any of the statewide leaders. Does that say more about knowledge of basketball or knowledge politics? Frerichs sees SDSU beating Michigan but losing to VCU. Louisville wins it all, over Georgetown.

South Dakota Democratic Party chairman Ben Nesselhuf

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Nesselhuf also sees SDSU losing in the Round of 32 to VCU. (I’d say it was something in the Democratic water, but Tim Johnson had the Jackrabbits going all the way.) He’s another Louisville pick, over Kansas.

Argus Leader managing editor Patrick Lalley

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Can you tell which one of these amateur bracketologists isn’t a politician? Maybe the man who picks a quick exit for the Jackrabbits in their first game. My boss Patrick Lalley sees Michigan beating SDSU and VCU, only to lose to Kansas. He also tabs Louisville for champs, over Indiana.

I’ve asked a few more South Dakota politicians for their brackets; if they come in, I’ll add them to the list.

Updated: Daugaard’s first veto

There’s no announcement yet, but a lawmaker says Gov. Dennis Daugaard has vetoed his first bill of 2013.

On Tuesday, I previewed the batch of bills still awaiting action by Daugaard, and looked at the possibility  that we could see no vetoes this year.

“I haven’t got the sense from conversations with the governor’s staff that there will be anything upsetting,” said Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, the Senate Majority Leader. “The bills the executive branch was tracking and opposed to, that I was aware of, he’s already signed.”

But yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Jason Frerichs highlighted one bill that could draw a veto that I hadn’t focused on: Senate Bill 115, which increases fertilizer fees and uses the revenue to fund fertilizer research.

"I would expect 115 will be vetoed, the fertilizer increase," said Frerichs, a supporter of the measure.

After tweeting about this, Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, confirmed Frerichs’ speculation:

Krebs is the prime sponsor for SB 115. Prime sponsors typically get courtesy calls when their bill is vetoed before Daugaard announces his action to the public:

SB 115 passed both houses over the two-thirds threshold needed to override a veto, but it did have sizable opposition in both chambers. Supporters said the fertilizer industry was asking to tax themselves, which made it okay. Opponents said it was wrong for government to tax private businesses to fund research.

A few photos of last night’s legislative basketball game, which raised a bunch of money for charity. Rumor has it the Senate pulled out a victory 112-108 of the House side. If I get more information about the money raised for Kids Voting South Dakota I’ll add this here.  The game raised $12,390 for Kids Voting South Dakota.

Amendment would add ‘trigger’ to economic development plan

Economic development spending should be put on hold when the state experiences budget trouble, legislative leaders announced Wednesday.

In a proposed amendment to the “Building South Dakota” economic development package, funding for the program would be dependent on the state also giving normal yearly increases to K-12 education, Medicaid providers and state employees.

If those programs were funded regularly, then millions of dollars every year would be deposited in the Building South Dakota fund to pay for career education, affordable housing and infrastructure projects around the state.

If the state didn’t pay those increases, or cut those programs, then the money set aside from the state’s contractor’s excise tax and Unclaimed Property fund would instead go to the state’s general fund.

This “trigger” helped bring Gov. Dennis Daugaard on board with the economic development plan, assembled by a group of bipartisan legislators.

“The main issue or concern from the governor’s office was protecting the general fund, to be able to ensure that we can adequately provide for education, Medicaid, state salary policy, and those things,” said Pat Costello, Daugaard’s economic development director, who endorsed the Building South Dakota program Wednesday. “When we got comfortable with that, the governor could support the bill.”

Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg and the prime architect of the proposal, said it wasn’t a tough concession for legislators to make.

“My guess is we as a Legislature probably would have done that on our own (without the trigger),” Brown said.

Sen. Tim Rave, R-Baltic, said the trigger is good policy.

“The trigger mechanism makes it very clear that we will fund our priorities first. I think that makes total sense,” Rave said.

The trigger was part of a package of changes introduced Wednesday for Building South Dakota.

The bill is expected to pass out of a conference committee of House and Senate members Thursday morning, after the amendment is tweaked to address legislator concerns.

Brown also proposed seeding Building South Dakota with $7 million in one-time money. The program’s funding stream won’t start in earnest until 2015. The $7 million will let the state start spending money on education, housing, roads and other areas right away.

Another change in the proposal is more specifics about the education funding it contains. For the next three years, the workforce education subfund — which gets 30 percent of the total Building South Dakota fund — will pay for English language education in K-12 schools. That will cost about $1.9 million for the first year, and around $1.3 million in future years.

The next $1.5 million in the fund will go to high schools to pay for career and technical education. Any money in the workforce education subfund after that will be given as bonuses for K-12 education.

The legislative committee will meet at 9 a.m. to amend and approve Building South Dakota. It would then head to both the House and Senate to be adopted.

So far it seems to be maintaining its bipartisan support. No one testified against the package on Wednesday, or at its prior hearing before a House committee. It faced some opposition on the House floor, primarily from legislators who argued it should be split into multiple bills, but a majority rejected those challenges

Members of both parties praised Building South Dakota Wednesday.

“I’m hopeful we can iron out these details,” said Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot. “It almost feels like the 11th hour, but it is not. We still have time left in the session to work through these problems.”

Rave agreed.

“It’s just a great comprehensive piece of legislation,” he said. “I think it’s a great compromise bill that really addresses a lot of areas of need.”

Sen. Russell Olson, Rep. David Lust, Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, Sen. Jason Frerichs and Sen. Corey Brown, the top legislative leaders of both parties, introduce a new omnibus economic development package on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.

Sen. Russell Olson, Rep. David Lust, Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, Sen. Jason Frerichs and Sen. Corey Brown, the top legislative leaders of both parties, introduce a new omnibus economic development package on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013.

School sentinels bill passes committee 5-4

A proposal to let schools arm volunteer “sentinels” to protect against threats is on its way to the South Dakota Senate.

The school sentinels bill, House Bill 1087, passed a key Senate committee 5-4 Friday, and needs only approval from the Senate to head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard to be signed into law.

Under the proposal, school boards could vote to arm sentinels provided local law enforcement approved and the sentinels underwent training with the state.

Rural schools, located far from local law enforcement and without police resource officers, want the proposal’s flexibility, advocates said.

“If we think we’re immune in South Dakota from school violence, we should probably think again,” said Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City. “Our local school officials and local school boards need to be making a decision about the security of their schools.”

Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, and other supporters emphasized the local control.

“For the schools that do not want ever to have anybody armed… they should want this bill,” Craig said. “It is this bill that guarantees that they make the decision to never have anyone armed.”

But what Sen. Larry Lucas called “the (key) issue of the 2013 legislative session” has plenty of opponents. Most major school groups testified in opposition, saying the sentinels program was risky and unwanted.

Jeff Marlette, a general in the South Dakota National Guard and the superintendent of the New Underwood School District, lamented that South Dakotans would now ask if “our state has gotten so bad and so dangerous and so unsafe that we must now attend school in an armed fortress.”

Lobbyists for the state’s school boards and school administrators proposed an alternative, to set up a task force studying school security. If that task force recommended school sentinels, they said, they could support it, but saw the current proposal as too rushed.

“This amendment would give you another option to talk about school safety,” said Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “Let’s put a task force together that’s made up of these stakeholders and bring recommendations so school boards could have options to look at.”

But the committee rejected that amendment, with members questioning whether such a task force would produce new mandates and objecting to the last-minute nature of the proposal.

The Senate committee did make several changes to the proposal, notably removing a section added in the House that kept decisions about the sentinels program secret.

Tieszen, the prime sponsor of the bill, endorsed that change.

“This must be a publicly made decision,” Tieszen said.

Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, supports keeping the decision private. He said it would keep would-be attackers in the dark about which schools were and were not defended, and thus provide more protection to everyone.

Once a district has adopted a sentinels program, decisions about it — such as which people were armed — could be made behind closed doors.

Another change might be coming in the full Senate. Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said he’s interested in specifying that voters can refer a decision to create a sentinels program to a public election.

Senate passage isn’t assured, with many lawmakers skeptical. Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, suggested the sentinels bill wasn’t necessary because volunteers could be deputized by their local sheriff to defend the school.

Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, said he likes the concept but has too many unanswered questions.

“If we’re going to do something like this, I need to feel more than reasonably confident that we’ve covered all our bases,” Brown said.

But supporters said the sentinels program is both needed and well-thought-out.

“I don’t think anyone has promoted this as the ultimate solution to the problem we face,” said Rhoden. “But it is a step.”

Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes, said it was a good proposal that keeps decisions with local government.

“What I like about this bill is its permissive nature,” Lederman said. “This bill will maximize local control.”

Sen. Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, lambasted schools for opposing the local option.

“Do you just want the softballs? Do you just want the easy decisions?” he asked school representatives. “When it gets tough should it come back to the Legislature? Make up your mind.”

The Senate must take action on the sentinels bill by March 5, though it has yet to be scheduled for debate. Because the Senate has amended the version passed by the House earlier this month, the House would then get another vote, to either approve the Senate version or try to negotiate a compromise.

Craig said House members will likely be divided on whether removing the secrecy provision is a good move.

If the Legislature approves the sentinels bill, it will head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who likes the concept and is studying the proposal’s specific details.

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