Panel backs ban on sex-selective abortions

It’s wrong to have an abortion because the fetus isn’t the desired gender, lawmakers and activists on both sides of a controversial bill agreed Wednesday.

Where they disagreed is whether there should be a law against sex-selective abortions.

"We’re faced with a moral urgency," said Rep. Jenna Haggar, R-Sioux Falls. "Sex discrimination is wrong at every age."

On Wednesday, Haggar won the day. Her bill making it a felony to perform an abortion “due to the sex of the unborn child” passed its first committee 9-3 and is headed to the full House of Representatives.

In testimony, a range of anti-abortion advocates said sex-selective abortions were most common in Asian countries such as China and India, as well as among people from Asian cultures living in the United States.

"You cannot explain the male to female demographics that are occurring in birth ratios in some ethnic groups here in the United States… unless you account for sex-selective abortion," said Spencer Cody, vice president of South Dakota Right to Life, referring to a study of Asian-Americans in California.

Abortion rights supporters said they, too, abhor sex-selective abortions. But they said a ban was the wrong way to address the problem.

Heather Smith, executive director of the ACLU South Dakota, said the measure “purports to be about gender equality, but in fact it is a thinly veiled attempt to restrict a woman’s access to abortion care.”

Smith and others said the bill was unenforceable, threatened patient confidentiality and was a moot point because many sex-determination tests aren’t effective during the first trimester when South Dakota law permits abortions.

Supporters said improving technology allows earlier and earlier determination of a fetus’s sex.

"Ten years ago this wouldn’t have been needed," Cody said.

Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee endorsed the measure, with several supporters saying it was an easy vote.

"I think this is a heck of a start for something that absolutely infuriates me," said Rep. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg. "This bill may not be perfect, and it may have some questions around it. But I think this is probably the best bill dealing with this issue that (I’ve seen) … in my six years here."

Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, voted for the bill despite expressing misgivings.

"I’m concerned about this bill because I’m not sure it’s going to accomplish anything," Hajek said. "I can support it, but I’m not sure if it does a whole lot."

The three Democrats on the committee voted against the measure. Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said sex-selective abortion was “simply not a problem here in South Dakota” and that the measure was “a lawsuit waiting to happen.”

The measure, House Bill 1162, is one of several abortion-related bills facing the South Dakota Legislature this year. One would ban abortions because of a Down syndrome diagnosis, and another revises the state’s 2011 pre-abortion counseling law.

Red light camera ban passes House 69-1

A nearly unanimous South Dakota House voted Wednesday to ban red light cameras and automated speeding ticket systems.

After the 69-1 vote, the bill now heads to the state Senate.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said the city of Sioux Falls’ attempt to install red light cameras at the intersection of 10th Street and Minnesota Avenue several years ago infuriated her.

"Red light cameras are used primarily to raise money, and not to improve safety," said Gibson, who also called them "an invasion of our privacy."

No one spoke against the measure. One lawmaker, Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, said he had opposed Gibson’s attempt several years ago to ban red light cameras but had since changed his mind.

The lone no vote in the House was Rep. Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell.

Rep. Nelson’s unusual amendment: During debate about the bill banning 14- and 15-year old drivers from using cell phones while driving, Rep. Stace Nelson brought this amendment forward to make a point.
Nelson argued that the cell phone ban was a feel-good bill, and that if the idea was to “change the culture” by creating a culture against cell phone use, then he had a list of more important cultural changes to enact by banning.
The rest of the House did not take kindly to the amendment, with a series of members of both parties rising to condemn it as “offensive,” disrespectful and in bad taste.
Nelson, in response, said what was really offensive was the cell phone bill.
But the House rejected Nelson’s amendment 64-2. Rep. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, was the only member to vote with Nelson.
Minutes later, the full bill passed 43-23. That was a 10-vote improvement on last week, when the measure got 33 yes votes and 30 no votes, falling short of the 36-vote threshold for passage.
Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, credited Nelson’s amendment with actually persuading more people to vote for it. 
Nelson, for his part, referred afterwards to “crocodile outrage” among his fellow legislators.

Rep. Nelson’s unusual amendment: During debate about the bill banning 14- and 15-year old drivers from using cell phones while driving, Rep. Stace Nelson brought this amendment forward to make a point.

Nelson argued that the cell phone ban was a feel-good bill, and that if the idea was to “change the culture” by creating a culture against cell phone use, then he had a list of more important cultural changes to enact by banning.

The rest of the House did not take kindly to the amendment, with a series of members of both parties rising to condemn it as “offensive,” disrespectful and in bad taste.

Nelson, in response, said what was really offensive was the cell phone bill.

But the House rejected Nelson’s amendment 64-2. Rep. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, was the only member to vote with Nelson.

Minutes later, the full bill passed 43-23. That was a 10-vote improvement on last week, when the measure got 33 yes votes and 30 no votes, falling short of the 36-vote threshold for passage.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, credited Nelson’s amendment with actually persuading more people to vote for it. 

Nelson, for his part, referred afterwards to “crocodile outrage” among his fellow legislators.

House committee kills two teen driving bills, passes two more (updated)

An alliance of urban conservatives and rural lawmakers defeated two proposed restrictions on 14 and 15 year old drivers Tuesday, while two more passed.

Rejected on concerns about government overreach and inconvenience to rural families were a restriction on the number of passengers young drivers could have, and a six-month extension in the amount of time before 14-year-olds can get a permit to drive without an instructor.

“We have eight kids, and they were all driving by the time they were 7 or 8 years old,” said Rep. Dean Schrempp, D-Lantry. “If the parents would just work a little bit with these kids, they’d be ready to drive at an earlier age.”

Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte, said his kids also started driving at age eight. The burden, Qualm said, should be on parents to know when their children are capable of driving alone.

The limitation on passengers had exemptions for family members and for trips to and from school and school events in an attempt to satisfy rural concerns. But Rep. Kyle Schoenfish, R-Scotland, worried limiting passengers would just lead to more inexperienced teen drivers on the road.

Rep. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, argued in forceful terms that the bill went too far limiting individual’s rights to do what they want with their vehicles, including letting their kids drive with passengers.

“If they’d had enough cars in the Soviet Union in Stalin’s time, he probably would have thought this a really good idea,” Russell said.

Supporters of the two bills had argued they would help save lives.

“These are the times we make decisions that will save one or two or three families next year,” said Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, said two issues above all contribute to teen drivers getting into accidents: “youth and distraction.”

Statistics distributed at Tuesday’s committee hearing said traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers — even those who aren’t driving themselves. Two-thirds of South Dakota teens who die in car crashes were passengers while another teen was driving, according to a lobbyist for State Farm Insurance.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron and a strong supporter of the teen driving proposals, said she will try to revive the six-month delay, but is giving up for this year on the passenger limit due to lack of support.

After the hearing, Gibson and other supporters were angry.

“This committee has just made a sham of our work,” said Gibson, who helped draft the bills as part of a teen driving task force. “I’m disappointed and I’m embarrassed by the ignorance of some of the comments that were made today.”

Gibson accused opponents of the two proposals of prioritizing convenience over safety. She referred to the remarks of Rep. Dennis Feickert, D-Aberdeen, who said his brother would have to “take time from his important work on the farm to see to it that his (14-year-old) son is able to participate in activities in the school he goes to in the fall” if the bills passed.

“How do they get to school right now?” Gibson said. “We’re talking about convenience over saving lives.”

Russell, however, said the supporters of the bill hadn’t made the case that these changes were necessary.

“I just have not heard compelling testimony that we need to change what we’re doing in this state and dramatically restrict those young people who, like my son, are more than capable of, within a just a few weeks, I think, to have a full license,” Russell said.

Though two teen driving bills were defeated Tuesday, the House Transportation Committee passed a third — a ban on cell phone use by 14- and 15-year old drivers.

Unlike a proposed ban on texting while driving for all drivers currently awaiting a hearing in the House, this bill would include all use of cell phones and other mobile communications devices by those young drivers.

By preventing young drivers from the distraction of texting or talking on their cell phones, advocates said they could prevent accidents.

“I’d hate to be a law enforcement officer in this instance, because I think it’s going to be tough to enforce, but I think it’s a very important move,” said Feickert.

A fourth bill, standardizing statewide driver’s education, also passed the committee — but with an amendment appropriating $50,000 to pay for the effort. Supporters called that an attempt to defeat the bill, because bills appropriating money need more votes to pass, and said they would try to remove it on the House floor.

All four bills were proposed by a task force created by the Legislature to study teen driving in South Dakota.

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.

Bill extending abortion wait period passes SD House

A bill extending the time women must wait before having an abortion passed the South Dakota House with support from four-fifths of the body Wednesday evening.

House Bill 1237 would exclude weekends and holidays from the 72-hour pre-abortion waiting period signed into law in 2011.

Supporters said it’s necessary to give women more time to get the counseling required of them, given that crisis pregnancy centers may not be open on weekends or holidays.

“The exclusion of weekends and holidays is crucial to ensuring that a pregnant mother is able to obtain (counseling),” said Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids.

Democrats opposed to the bill called it insulting to women.

“My goodness, we think South Dakota women are stupid,” said Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron.

Rep. Marc Feinstein, D-Sioux Falls, said the bill overlooked the fact that “the human body doesn’t only work and function during business hours.”

But a strong majority of lawmakers agreed that the extra time would help.

“This bill allows some extra time for those young ladies to consider what might be the most important decision of their young life,” said Rep. Scott Ecklund, R-Brandon.

A proposed amendment by Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead, would have watered down the amendment to require simply that the 72-hour period include one business day. The bill as proposed requires two business days.

Johns said he believes his amendment would make the bill more likely to hold up in court.

But Hansen said the bill was legally sound, and the House rejected Johns’ amendment by a voice vote.

After nearly an hour of debate, the House approved HB 1237 56-13. It now heads to the Senate, which must approve the bill before it can head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard to become law.

Bill extending pre-abortion wait passes committee

A South Dakota committee voted to extend the waiting period before a woman can have an abortion Friday.

Current South Dakota law requires the woman seeking an abortion to wait 72 hours before the procedure. If House Bill 1237 passes, weekends and holidays would be excluded from that time.

Supporters said the extension is necessary to give women time to get mandated counseling before their abortion — counseling they said might not be available on weekends or holidays.

“As a matter of public policy, we should afford these pregnant mothers reasonable access to these counseling sessions,” said Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, the prime sponsor of the proposal.

Opponents said the bill was simply about making it harder for women to have abortions.

“I believe this is an egregious… attempt… to make it more difficult for women to obtain legal and safe abortions,” said Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron.

After nearly two hours of testimony and debate, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to send the bill to the full House for consideration.

The House must take action on the bill by the end of the day on Wednesday.

A compromise amendment was proposed by Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead. He would have allowed weekends and holidays to count toward the 72 hours but required the 72 hours include at least one full business day.

Johns’ amendment was never formally proposed and voted on. Johns said he was undecided about whether he’d propose the amendment to the full House.

Hansen said he opposes the Johns amendment because he believes one business day is not enough time for women to seek out pre-abortion counseling. Tiffany Campbell, the advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, which opposes HB 1237, said Johns’ amendment would make the bill better but that her group would still oppose the bill if so amended.

Democratic redistricting reform fails on party lines

The House State Affairs unsurprisingly killed an attempt by Democrats to change how South Dakota’s redistricting process would work.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, championed House Joint Resolution 1001, which would have set up a nonpartisan redistricting commission, established single-member House districts and a special mid-decade redistricting.

She said it was fair to “take some of the politics out of redistricting.”

The South Dakota Farmers Union supported the measure, specifically single-member House districts, which the group’s lobbyist said would lead to more rural representatives.

Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, was opposed. He said redistricting is something that should be in the hands of elected officials, not appointed officials.

Bolin also praised the 2011 redistricting process as fair and effective.

Had HJR 1001 passed, it would have sent the measure to the voters as a proposed constitutional amendment.

The committee voted along party lines to kill HJR 1001 8-4, with all Republicans opposed and all Democrats in favor.

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.

Hunhoff, Frerichs reelected as Democratic leaders

South Dakota’s Democratic lawmakers reelected their top leaders Friday night.

Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot, will continue as the Senate minority leader, and Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton, will be the House minority leader for another term.

Meeting near Madison, the Senate Democrats elected largely the same leaders as the past two years. The one new addition is Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, who is the new assistant minority leader.

"I thought I’d be in a good position to work with people across the aisle," Sutton said. "I want to foster good relationships with the Republicans and the Democrats together."

Reelected to their leadership posts were Senate minority whip Jim Bradford of Pine Ridge, and caucus chair Angie Buhl of Sioux Falls.

The House Democrats had more changes, with only Hunhoff and Rep. Peggy Gibson of Huron returning to the Legislature from last year’s leadership team. Gibson, who had expressed interest in the assistant leader position, was reelected to another term as a minority whip, along with newcomer Rep. Scott Parsley, D-Madison.

"I feel like I have a good grasp of the role the whip needs to play, in terms of being able to understand the bills and work with our caucus on what the bills mean and what the ramifications are," said Parsley, a first-time lawmaker.

The assistant House minority leader is Rep. Julie Bartling, D-Burke, a 10-year veteran of the House and Senate who returned to the Legislature this year after a hiatus.

The House Democratic caucus chair, Rep. Jim Peterson of Revillo, also has 10 years service in the Legislature and was reelected this year.

Frerichs said the Senate Democratic elections were low-key, unlike last year when then-Sen. Eldon Nygaard’s defeat in a leadership race contributed to his decision to switch to the Republican Party. 

Just 27 years old, Frerichs said he liked the split between young and old in the Senate Democratic team.

"It’s not just our young guns, it’s nice to have someone who’s been around the block, been through many, many debates," Frerichs said, highlighting Bradford’s 14 years in the Legislature.

The House Democratic elections were more competitive.

"We had a bunch of ties," said Hunhoff.

He called the House Democratic leadership team “as good as I’ve ever seen” with “experience” and “diversity.”

The Senate Republicans elected their leaders, including another term for Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson, R-Wentworth, on Monday.

House Republicans elect their leaders at 7 a.m. Saturday morning.

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