South Dakota chickens are apparently slacking off. About 2.63 million chickens laid 752 million eggs in South Dakota last year, but according to the USDA, that's a 4% drop laying chickens and an 8% drop in egg production.

Sonstegard Foods would single-handedly triple the number of laying chickens in our fair state with their proposed six-million-beak egg factory near Parker. Opponents are suing Turner County over allegedly improper zoning actions that would allow Sonstegard Foods to plunk those chickens and all their emissions less than three miles from town, not to mention within noseshot of nice folks who enjoy peaceful country living.

Sonstegard Foods says we won't notice the stink when they bring 150 jobs to Parker (maybe ten years from now). Jobs, mind you—not careers, not opportunities for independent farmers and landowners to captain their own destinies, just jobs... or maybe serfdom:

Chicken farmers are usually contractors for big companies. Most of them don’t even own the chickens they raise.

The chicken industry, like much of the meat industry, is what’s called “vertically integrated.” That means the company controls or owns almost every step of the production process, and competition between entities is minimal.

Companies usually own the breed of bird, and the hatchery where chicks are born. Same with the chickens they deliver to the farmer, the mills that make the feed farmers use, the slaughterhouse – and often even the trucking lines that deliver the meat to market.

Usually, the only thing they don’t own is the farm where the chickens are grown — the riskiest, lowest-yielding stage of the production line. The farmer has little control over what chicks he’s given, and little say in how they are raised. Some compare contract chicken farmers to sharecroppers.

[Says ag policy professor Robert Taylor,] “The farmer, if push comes to shove, is nothing more than an indentured servant or a serf, because the farmer is completely at the mercy of whatever the company decides to do" [Mariana van Zellar, "Cock Fight," Fusion, February 2015].

Farm entrepreneurs won't flock to Turner County for that kind of chicken feed. Like Beadle and Brown counties, Turner County will likely have to turn to an immigrant workforce that just happens to be easier to indenture.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for the economic and cultural growth immigration brings to South Dakota. But are we really improving our quality of life by promoting businesses that offer literally crappy jobs that most South Dakotans don't want to do?

* * *

We're really a food manufacturer that happens to have chickens on site.

—Peter Sonstegard, VP of sales, Sonstegard Foods, quoted in John Hult, "6M Chickens Could Come to Roost in Turner County," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.01.27

32 comments

I would say Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) is pushing hard for the youth minimum wage, but that might exaggerate the forcefulness with which David Novstrup legislates. When David talks about Senate Bill 177, he sounds less like a man speaking from conviction and more like a boy told by his dad Al, "Son, here's a bill to keep our profits up at Thunder Road. Get everyone to vote for it, and I'll raise your allowance."

But neither David nor Al has to work too hard on this child labor law. They have Republicans itching to undo the annoying will of the people, and the youth minimum wage is the perfect angle from which to pee on our populist parade. Senator Novstrup gets to appeal to the disrespect for young people that is all too prevalent among business and legislative leaders. He offers his business pals a chance to save money. And he gets to stick it to people who can't vote or even circulate petitions (see SDCL 12-1-3(9)) to refer the youth minimum wage to a vote, if it becomes law.

But you know, Democrats, if we're looking for a way to engage young voters and soon-to-be voters, maybe we should use Senator Novstrup's attack on young workers' rights as our number-one organizing tool. If we can't stop the Republican supermajorities from passing SB 177, maybe we refer the youth minimum wage to a public vote. We get moms and dads to circulate petitions with their working teenage sons and daughters: Mom and Dad hold the clipboard and sign the oath, but the kids make their case for workplace equality. We promote Young Dems rallies across the state where industrious youth can talk about trying to raise money for college to keep themselves and their parents out of debt. We hand the kids flyers with pictures of fun-park operators Dave and Al and the rest of the Republicans and tell the kids to tell their friends, "If they have R's in front of their name, they voted to cut our paychecks 11%." And when November 2016 comes, we get them to bring all of their voting-age friends to the polls to vote against the youth minimum wage and against everyone who voted for it.

It would be preferable to save all that effort, mobilize a big youth turnout at the Legislature next week, and kill Senate Bill 177 now. But if SB 177 passes, we should refer it. That referendum would show Republicans that we voters really are the boss. A referendum on the youth minimum wage would also help teach young voters and future voters that politics is about vital pocketbook issues that demand their attention.

25 comments

Yesterday I reviewed the election picks of the participants in the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce Business Caucus. Today, let's look at the media habits and policy leanings revealed by that straw poll.

The Chamber asked Business Caucus participants to name two media they use to follow the Legislative process:

Source Users
Newspaper 58
Television news 31
Public radio and television 26
Internet news sources 66
Blogs and social media 29
Friends—chatting 26

Internet news and newspapers are the top choices. Folks are still tuning in to KELO and KOTA, but blogs and social media are close to both the commercial tubers and public broadcasting (which really does the best legislative coverage in the state with its Statehouse service).

The Webby skew of this group's media preferences may reflect the age groupings. The Business Caucus included 52 GenXers, 42 Millennials, 39 Boomers, and just one really old businessperson.

A quarter of these employers (26 out of 104 responding to this question) said their businesses have policies "about employees' personal websites." I hope these policies do not go beyond reminding employees to keep their business lives separate from their personal online lives. 60% (48 out of 79 responding) say they check social media to screen job applicants (I should apply for more jobs to boost my readership!). But 96% (98 out of 102 responding) said employers should not have the right "to collect passwords from employee's private social media accounts when they aren't under suspicion for a crime." On that issue, the Chamber of Commerce leadership appears to be out of step with its membership: Chamber boss David Owen testified earlier this month against legislation that would have prevented such forcible invasions of job applicants' online privacy.

On transportation issues, only one member out of 127 respondents expressed direct opposition to raising taxes to boost funding for road and bridge repairs. Read that again: in a group of Chamber members, 99% support raising taxes for a practical public purpose. Another 80% (67 out of 84 respondents) support an extra penny sales tax in their cities for local needs.

Asked to name three taxes they would support raising for roads, the gasoline tax, sales/excise tax on cars, and wheel tax were the most popular. Using property tax and a price-based wholesale tax on fuel were the least popular.

Nearly half of the Business Caucus (52 out of 106 responding) support Senator David Novstrup's "youth minimum wage" and admit that they think "young people in first jobs don't have the value of fully adult workers." That's logically and morally wrong.

Chamber members are uneasy about creating a state debt collection office. 50% (43 out of 86 respondents) oppose the concept; the other half are split 29% for a state debt collection office and 21% offering only partial support, saying they can live with "a small state office to track the numbers but use the private sector for heavy lifting." The Daugaard Administration had a heck of a plan that would have garnished wages and seized bank assets to pay off debts owed to the state. The Senate and the private debt collection agencies freaked out and scared the toothless Daugaard regime into tabling that bill and putting its chips on a much weaker bill that now just withholds licenses from deadbeats.

The Business Caucus may not be scientifically representative of the general population of South Dakota businesspeople, but it does represent the voices of those most likely to go to Pierre to participate in the Legislative process.

23 comments

The South Dakota House approved a useful amendment to our open meetings laws yesterday. My Representative Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) brought House Bill 1153 to include "text colloquy" in the definition of "teleconference". Under HB 1153, e-mails, text messages, chat room messages, and other such electronic communications among members of any public body become public record, to be made available to the public during the meeting and kept on file for at least one year following the meeting, if those communications involve a quorum of that public body and discuss official business.

Majority leader Rep. Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City) led the 22 Republicans who opposed House Bill 1153. He fretted that investigators could riffle through elected officials texts and e-mails. I would suggest to Rep. Gosch a simple solution: use one official e-mail account exclusively for public business, and don't communicate with fellow members of the body to which you are elected on your personal e-mail or phone. I would also suggest Rep. Gosch not worry: Rep. Novstrup's record on last year's EB-5 investigation shows he's not really interested in serious investigations of elected officials.

Joining Rep. Gosch in resisting open records was Rep. Tim Rounds (R-24/Pierre), brother of U.S. Senator Mike Rounds. That family's resistance to making e-mails and other official communications public is entirely understandable. But now that the EB-5 coast seems clear, the Governor and AG Jackley support this bill.

House Bill 1153 now heads for the Senate.

5 comments

David Montgomery left South Dakota last December for a better job in the Twin Cities. He now gets to report on Gallup numbers showing Minnesota's better rate of uninsured people:

At the beginning of 2014, just 9.5 percent of Minnesotans lacked health insurance, the fourth-best rate in the country. As of the start of 2015, that uninsured rate is now 7.4 percent, 2.1 percentage points lower.

...A previous study, conducted between September 2013 and May 2014 by University of Minnesota researchers, also showed a drop in Minnesota's uninsured rate. It used a different methodology and found the uninsured rate falling from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent [David Montgomery, "Minnesota's Uninsured Rate Falls, Says Survey," Pioneer Press, 2015.02.24].

The uninsured rate in South Dakota dropped from 14.0% to 12.7%. Minnesota embraced the Affordable Care Act by implementing their MNSure state health insurance exchange and expanding Medicaid. South Dakota has taken neither action.

Montgomery posits no causation, but Minnesota's Democratic leaders want to give the ACA and MNSure the credit. Those DFL legislators are probably right. Take a look at this graph from Gallup showing the nationwide uninsured rate:

Gallup US uninsured 2014

Climb, climb, climb, fully enact ACA—plummet.

Then look at the Gallup state-by-state uninsured data on which Montgomery bases his report:

Gallup uninsured by state 2014

The uninsured rate went down everywhere in 2014, but the statisticians at Gallup don't hesitate to name the spade that's filling this hole faster:

While a majority of Americans continue to disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, it has clearly had an impact in reducing the uninsured rate in the U.S., which declined to its lowest point in seven years by the last quarter of 2014. This trend could be poised to continue, as 55% of Americans who remain uninsured plan to get health insurance rather than pay a fine.

States that have implemented two of the law's core mechanisms -- Medicaid expansion and state health exchanges -- are seeing a substantially larger drop in the uninsured rate than states that did not take both of these actions. Consequently, the gap in uninsured rates that existed between these two groups in 2013 nearly doubled in 2014 [Dan Witters, "Arkansas, Kentucky See Most Improvement in Uninsured Rates," Gallup, 2015.02].

The ACA is working. South Dakota should get over its Obamaphobia and help the ACA work.

20 comments

Bob Mercer notes who would get the Chamber of Commerce Business Caucus vote for Governor and President. Right now, these Main Streeters' top picks are Matt Michels and Hillary Clinton.

The gubernatorial straw poll rejects the perhaps conventional view purveyed in the media that the GOP is bracing for a three-way gubernatorial contest among Attorney General Marty Jackley, District 12 Rep. Mark Mickelson, and eyelash-battingly coy Congresswoman Kristi Noem. Lt. Gov. Michels and Democrats' great white hope Stephanie Herseth Sandlin both got more straw poll votes than those three GOP contenders.

If spelling counts, the Business Caucus's misspelling of Noem's name as Kristie suggests they aren't paying as much attention to her as she might like. Only one person picked Shantel Krebs for governor, versus thirteen for Noem, but by gum, the ballot spelled Shantel's name right!

On the Presidential side, while the preference for Clinton is suprising, the Chamber predictably prefers mainstream moderates like Hillary and second-place corporatist and dynastirian Jeb Bush. The next Bush gets more votes than any two of the five wild-eyed ideologues on the Business Caucus's list—Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Rick Perry. Clinton gets more votes than all five right wingnuts together. (I invite debate as to whether we ought to include Mike Huckabee in that list.)

(Bonus liberal hope: there are three Chamber members who would vote for Elizabeth Warren and one for James Webb.)

And John Thune? He appears to have fallen into the Chamber's blind spot. They don't hint at all at Thune aspiring to anything other than the job he has right now in the U.S. Senate. (Gee, Rep. Gosch: maybe your embarrassing apology for the Daschle Rule was all for nought!)

But don't read too much into these numbers. The Business Caucus polled about 130 members. Only 84 named a favorite gubernatorial candidate; only 81 named a Presidential pick. The Business Caucus members aren't nearly as interested in elections 1.5 and 3.5 years off as they are on the issues before the Legislature right now. We'll talk about the Chamber's Legislative opinions in a separate post, coming soon!

30 comments

The Senate Judiciary Committee looked the National Rifle Association in the eye yesterday and said no... twice.

The NRA sent lobbyist John Commerford from Washington, DC, to lobby for House Bills 1096 and 1116 before Senate Judiciary Tuesday morning. Both bills tinkered with our concealed weapons permit laws; HB 1116 was the worse, effectively repealing the need to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm. The NRA supported both bills, and Senate Judiciary rejected both bills. The only votes supporting HB 1096 and HB 1116 came from Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre), who has previously laid bare his fearful fealty to his NRA score.

The full Senate struck another blow against gun nuttery yesterday by tabling Senate Bill 192, which would have allowed sergeants-at-arms in the Capitol to carry firearms. Prime sponsor Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) wheezed again about his vague terror at our "ever-changing, increasingly volatile world" yet yielded to law enforcement and security professionals and asked the Senate to table his fearful bill. The Senate obliged.

The Legislature has now killed six bills dealing with concealed weapons in their titles (previous dust-biters: HB 1108, HB 1183, HB 1206, and SB 162). Only two concealed weapons bills have survived: HB 1215, creating an enhanced concealed weapons permit, is headed for Senate committee, while the Governor has signed Senate Bill 12, making it easier for military spouses to get concealed weapons permits.

I cheer the Legislature's possibly growing willingness to say no to the NRA. Now how about developing the will to say yes to the NEA? The Legislature seems to have floated more bills to put guns in people's pockets than to put more money in teachers' pockets. Tell me, citizens, which problem seems to be more urgent in South Dakota: the inability of citizens to defend themselves with secretly carried deadly force, or the inability of teachers to make ends meet on South Dakota's barrel-bottom teacher pay?

22 comments

The Black Hills woman who led the fight to make animal cruelty a felony in South Dakota has won some national recognition. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has named Shari Crouch Kosel one of America's Top Ten Animal Defenders:

Shari Crouch Kosel and friend (photo from ALDF)

Shari Crouch Kosel and friend (photo from ALDF)

Shari Crouch Kosel is the co-founder and chair of South Dakotans Fighting Animal Cruelty Together (SDFACT). In 2008, Shari’s neighbor’s dog was tortured and murdered, which inspired Shari to begin a crusade for a felony penalty for animal cruelty at the state level. Years of letter writing, media outreach, and contacting legislators and law enforcement led to connections with advocates Sara Parker, Heidi Hunter, and Darci Adams. Together, they formed SDFACT, a small, grassroots nonprofit, whose sole mission was to pass felony-level penalties for animal cruelty.

In 2013, SDFACT worked with the Senate Agriculture Committee, the state veterinarian, and other agricultural entities. Months of meetings and passionate discussions in 2014 led to an agreement: a felony bill was born. Ultimately, it gained wide support from all entities in the state. In large part thanks to Shari’s dedication and hard work, in 2014 South Dakota became the 50th and final state to make malicious animal cruelty a felony [link added; Animal Legal Defense Fund, profile of Shari Kosel, downloaded 2015.02.25].

Kosel is not out there advocating for voting rights for dogs. Neither are the other members of ALDF's Top Ten Animal Defenders. Far from fringe activists, the majority of the honorees are law enforcement officials, good public officials out there arresting and prosecuting animal abusers whose cruelty toward weaker four-leggeds demonstrates dangerous anti-social inclinations.

Congratulations, Shari! Keep up the good work!

6 comments

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