Could Medicaid expansion happen this year? South Dakota has already given up two of the best years of the federal government's offer under the Affordable Care Act to cover most of the cost of putting 48,000 low-income South Dakotans on affordable public health insurance. But John Tsitrian notices that Governor Dennis Daugaard is hinting at a shift from his ideological excuses to an openness to accepting some form of the Medicaid expansion.

And Democrats are working hard to make that possible. AP reports that our man Bernie (that's Senator Hunhoff, D-18/Yankton) is working behind the scenes with health care providers to bring some sort of Medicaid expansion to South Dakota.

Hmm... just a thought: if health care philanthropist T. Denny Sanford can kick in $25 million to match state funds and launch Governor Daugaard's scholarships for welders, might we be able to persuade Sanford to spend a fraction of that money each year to bring hundreds of millions in the Medicaid economic stimulus to South Dakota?

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Corporate profits peaked under President George W. Bush in 2006 near $1.7 trillion. The recession then plunged corporate profits to $1.0 trillion by the 2008 election. (Check that: during the economy's nadir, corporations were still coming out ahead.) Since the election of radical Marxist redistributionist Barack Obama, corporate profits have more than doubled to $2.2 trillion. Hmmm... so Obama hasn't come for your guns or your profits...

...but wait! President Obama is coming for a chunk of the profits that corporations are hiding overseas. Yesterday the President announced a plan to grab half of the funding for his six-year, $478-billion infrastructure investment plan from a one-time, 14% tax on current overseas corporate profits stashed overseas, plus a 19% tax on future overseas profits that opponents say still helps big corporations dodge their fair share of taxes.

Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) would like us South Dakota voters to talk about taxing corporations to fund education. Senate Joint Resolution 2 would place this brief, straightforward proposal for a constitutional amendment on the 2016 general election ballot:

The Legislature shall impose an education franchise tax by imposing a tax on the profits of corporations doing business in South Dakota. However, this section does not apply to any insurance company subject to a tax on gross premiums or financial institution subject to the bank franchise tax. The revenue and interest generated by the tax, less the cost of administration, is dedicated to improving the salaries of elementary and secondary public school teachers. The Legislature shall establish the rate of taxation.

Senator Hunhoff's proposal recognizes that South Dakota already imposes income taxes on bankers and insurers (which taxes have yet to lead to an exodus of bankers and insurers). SJR 2 gives the Legislature control over the tax, allowing it to set the rate based on the economy, the needs of the school districts, whatever may come up each session. SJR 2 goes and gets money that President Obama won't be taking, since U.S. Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds will surely work their darnedest to prevent that federal tax from happening. As is Bernie's wont, SJR 2 comes from a bipartisan team of sponsors, including Senator Hunhoff's Highway 50 neighbor Rep. Ray Ring (D-17/Vermillion) and veteran West River legislators Sen. Bruce Rampelberg (R-30/Rapid City) and Rep. Thomas Brunner (R-29/Nisland). These Republicans can sponsor this bill without saying they are advocating a new tax; they could vote for it and contend that they just want the people to decide if a corporate tax is an appropriate way to raise teacher salaries (which would be a nice counter to the impression their Gettysburg colleague Senator Corey Brown is creating that Republicans don't trust voters).

As I noted Saturday, the richest South Dakotans have been surfing that wave of corporate profits to claim more than 50% of our state's post-recession income growth. The average one-percenter in South Dakota makes 31.7 times as much as the average teacher in South Dakota, a disparity that is higher only in Wyoming, North Dakota, and Connecticut. Don't count the top 1% or earners, and South Dakota teachers still make 21.2% less than the average individual income.

Moving some income from the corporate tier, where profits have doubled since the recession, to the teachers who build the corporate workforce seems just. Let's put SJR 2 on the ballot and debate a corporate profits tax in 2016.

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More bipartisan fun: Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) has recruited three Democratic colleagues (Sutton, Gibson, and Hawley) and four Republicans (Rampelberg, Deutsch, Hickey, and Wiik) to sponsor Senate Bill 123, which would prohibit employers from demanding access to current or prospective employees' personal online accounts.

SB 123 is a good defense of personal privacy in the workplace. Employers have as much business snooping around the Facebook posts you share only with friends as they do crashing your cocktail party or peeping in your bedroom window. Employers are welcome to read (and comment on! and share!) my public blog posts, but they have no right to ask for the password to my blog control panel. Other states have protected workers from such employer intrusions; South Dakota should, too.

Bonus points to Senator Hunhoff for hard work and cross-party hustle. Our man Bernie has secured Republican co-sponsors on eight of the ten bills he is prime-sponsoring as well as on his one joint resolution, SJR 2, which would put a constitutional amendment to fund education with a corporate profits tax to a public vote. Uff da—that's a whole nother blog post in itself! For now, Democrats, keep learning from Bernie on how to look for allies across the aisle.

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The South Dakota Legislature will debate the death penalty again this session. Democratic Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) and Republican Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) lead a bipartisan team of sponsors on Senate Bill 121, which would remove death from the penalties permitted for Class A felonies and replace it with life imprisonment without parole.

Last year the Legislature killed Rep. Hickey's death-penalty repeal in House State Affairs by one vote. This year, the death penalty debate goes first to Senate State Affairs, where SB 121 sponsors Senator Hunhoff and Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) are the only Democrats among seven Republicans. But those Republicans will see the names of House colleagues among the sponsors, including former judge Rep. Tim Johns (R-20/Spearfish), conservative Rep. Scott Munsterman (R-7/Brookings), and formidable lawyer and Catholic Rep. Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown).

Conservatives looking for a reason to repeal the death penalty get a reminder from one of South Dakota's greatest liberals, former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk, that the death penalty does not make fiscal sense:

In Texas, which boasts of the largest death row in the country, a death penalty case in 1996 cost taxpayers an average of $2.3 million, which is about three times the cost of imprisoning the accused in a single cell for 40 years. Other states report similar savings when the death penalty is not the issue in a criminal trial.

If the excessive cost of a death penalty trial is compared to a nondeath case, each state could increase police presence, police training and other matters designed to curb criminal activity, which is where the money should be spent [Jim Abourezk, "Is Death Penalty Too Costly for Taxpayers?" that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.02.02].

Expect serious, non-partisan fiscal and moral arguments in Senate State Affairs... and, we hope, on the floor of both chambers as this important bill advances.

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The Senate State Affairs Committee heard concerns from the American Civil Liberties Union this morning that the petition reform legislation working its way through Pierre may need some changes to protect ballot access for new political parties.

In testimony on Senate Bill 69, South Dakota ACLU policy director Libby Skarin said her organization understands the overarching reasons the Board of Elections has proposed this bill along with SB 67 and SB 68, to improve the validation process for nominating petitions. However, said Skarin, moving the petition circulation period one month earlier, to a submission deadline at the end of February, creates ballot access issues, especially for new political parties seeking official recognition from the state. Skarin said that the ACLU brought litigation in 1984 challenging a February petition deadline and got that deadline moved later.

To flesh out the ACLU's opposition, Skarin recruited Richard Winger, the ballot access expert blogger Ken Santema cited yesterday in contending that SB 69's February deadline may violate the Constitution. Testifying by phone from out of state on the kind indulgence of committee chairman Senator Tim Rave, Winger said that the Supreme Court has held that states must allow new parties to form in the spring of an election year. He noted that the Republican Party formed in July 1854 in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed that spring. Winger said South Dakota is the only state that requires new parties to petition for status before the primary elections. He said there is no need for new parties to form before the primaries.

Winger and Skarin did not ask the committee to reject Senate Bill 69 or even any portion of it. They asked instead that the Legislature add language moving the petition filing date for new parties back to a more reasonable and Constitutional summertime date and allow new parties to nominate their candidates at convention. Neither had a formal amendment fleshed out to present to the committee this morning, but Skarin said she could have a proposal to senators by the end of the day.

Building on the ACLU's point about ballot access, Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) said the February deadline could make it much harder for legislators to help their parties recruit candidates. It's hard enough getting people to run, said Senator Hunhoff. Move that recruitment period to the holidays and the heart of Session when legislators are busy in Pierre, and even more ballot slots may go unfilled. Senator Hunhoff proposed that State Affairs defer SB 69 to allow a couple days to draft legislation that would cover the ACLU's concerns and perhaps create a provision to allow party chairs to fill ballot slots left empty at primary filing time.

When Senator Hunhoff asked her if such a proposal would complicate the election process at all, Secretary Krebs mentioned that parties right now can recruit placeholders to achieve the same end but said she'd have to check with her staff to see if they could think of any complications.

Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) said deferring the bill wouldn't change the indigestion he was feeling over Senator Hunhoff's proposal. Senator Brown said he finds the whole placeholder concept "abhorrent," and he didn't sound any more enthusiastic about letting party chairs pick nominees for blank spots. He also seemed uneasy about letting new parties nominate legislators at convention, as if facing an opponent selected by just a handful of his neighbors was an affront to democracy.

Chairman Rave, sounding a bit irked to have spent 50 minutes on this one bill, nonetheless urged and the committee agreed to defer SB 69 to Friday, when he promised to handle the bill briefly (translation: if you've got amendments, Bernie, they'd better short and sweet).

Senate State Affairs felt no need to delay SB 69's companion legislation, SB 67. That bill, which would set the second Tuesday in March as the deadline for filing court challenges against nominating petitions, drew no opposition and moves to the Senate floor.

But proceed carefully, Senate: passing SB 67 and SB 68 (which passed Senate Local Government this morning) only makes sense if SB 69 passes without amendment to its petition submission deadline of the last Tuesday in February. Make changes to SB 69 without changing SB 67 and SB 68, and you'll have a statutory spaghetti spill on your hands. (Remind me, Board of Elections, why we didn't write all these changes into one bill?)

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Democrat Bernie Hunhoff will have no truck with all this negative campaigning. However, he does have a truck...

Bernie Hunhoff for Senate ad, from Facebook, 2014.10.31

Bernie Hunhoff for Senate ad, from Facebook, 2014.10.31

...and an adorable granddaughter, or as Bernie describes her, "one of my very favorite constituents."

Go ahead, try saying something negative about Bernie. I dare you.

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My post on the reformulation of the rules for funding the "Building South Dakota" economic development fund brought some instructive commentary from a couple of political figures in the know.

First, Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton), a critic of the changed funding formula, notes that the problem is not that economic development is taking away from basic government responsibilities in the budget (and I am pleased to see the House Minority Leader use language that says corporate welfare is not a basic government responsibility). Rep. Hunhoff says the real problem with Senate Bill 158, the funding formula revision, is that it hitches the Building South Dakota Fund to a currently spiking but historically unreliable funding source, our unpredictable reserves. "It's a non-funding source," says Rep. Hunhoff, "so in effect they've unfunded Building South Dakota."

Another political insider notes that Senate Bill 158 removes BSDF from competition with K-12 education, Medicaid, and state employee salaries in the budget process. Instead of taking up oxygen in the general appropriations debates, BSDF waits until the fiscal year is done and takes its share from the remaining reserves. "This was a good deal for K-12, Medicaid, and state employees," says the observer, "because it freed up $15.9 m in ongoing money, which allowed increases of 3.0% rather than 1.6%."

But here's my sticking point: if we have any gravy left on the plate at the end of the fiscal year, should an economic development fund be the only piece of bread that gets to sop that gravy up? Why not maintain the leeway to direct any excess reserves to bonuses for teachers and state employees who may have contributed to those surpluses by keeping expenses down?

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South Dakota turns 125 next year! Whoo-hoo! To organize quasquicentennial activities (activity #1: drilling South Dakotans on spelling and etymology of quasquicentennial), Governor Dennis Daugaard has appointed a nine-member 125th Anniversary of Statehood Commission.

Members include Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton), whose long experience writing and publishing stories about South Dakota make him an excellent resource for planning historical celebrations, and Rep. Leslie Heinemann (R-8/Flandreau), who pulls teeth. Expect several quasquicentennial commemorations of brave dentists in South Dakota history.

Governor Daugaard assures us that no tax dollars will be harmed in the making of this quasquicentennial. He also invites us to submit our ideas for 125th-anniversary observation ideas through the new South Dakota quasquicentennial website. Hey, how about a South Dakota blogathon? First blogger to write 125 posts about South Dakota in 2014 gets a t-shirt?

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