During the Senate Judiciary hearing on Senate Bill 162 Thursday, Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) said he had patterned his plan to arm certain legislators to play security guard after the 2013 school gunslinger bill. Then-Rep. Greenfield thought it was a good idea to distract teachers and put students at risk by bringing more guns to school, so why not apply the same logic to the Capitol?

Senator Greenfield's effort to link his Capitol gunslinger bill to the school gunslinger (sorry—we're supposed to call them sentinels) bill inspired Senator Troy Heinert (D-26A/Mission) to ask a logical question:

Sen. Heinert to Greenfield: "Senator, do you know how many schools have used the school sentinel bill?"

Greenfield: "No, and I don't believe that information would be publicly available because of the confidentiality—er, Mr. Tieszen*, I saw three fingers sticking up."

Dick Tieszen, lobbyist, in audience: "No, that is a zero."

Greenfield: "Oh. Zero."

Chairman Craig Tieszen: "Senator Heinert?"

Heinert: "I do believe the answer is zero" [Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, South Dakota Legislature, Pierre, SD, 2015.02.12, timestamp 34:40].

After a question about current security measures in the Capitol, Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) contradicted Senator Heinert's and Dick Tieszen's statements that no one is using the school sentinel program:

Sen. Monroe: "The answer to the question, are any schools— have any schools enacted the sentinel bill, the answer is not zero, and for the confidentiality again, I'm not going to tell who. I just wanted to clear that up. That's all I had, Mr. Chairman."

Sen. Tieszen: "Senator Heinert?"

Heinert: "I'm not here to debate the good Senator from Pierre, but the answer is zero."

Sen. Tieszen: "All right, the debate stops. This is question time to start with. If you have a question, direct it to someone who testified. If not, we'll—discussion in a moment" [Senate Judiciary, 2015.02.12, timestamp 36:10].

Do some schools have sentinel gunslingers roaming their halls? And do confidentiality prevent them from telling us about that lurking danger to our children?

The answers, Mr. Chairman, are no and no. In reverse order:

Back in 2013, House Education amended the school gunslinger bill to keep discussion and implementation of the program secret in each school. Senate State Affairs quite sensibly eliminated that secrecy clause, thus requiring the House to vote on that bill again. Then-Rep. Greenfield cast an aye on that concurrence vote; had he cast an eye, he'd have known he was voting for a law that contains no confidentiality clause. Review SDCL 13–64, ARSD 2:01:15 and ARSD 2:01:16, the chapter and rules enacting and managing the school sentinel program, and you will not find a single clause saying that schools shall or may keep their use of the school sentinel provisions secret. Part of the 2013 bill, now SDCL 13-64-7 (you read this when you voted on it, right, Brock?), allows school district residents to refer implementation of the school sentinel program to a public vote, meaning the decision to implement is necessarily public.

That means that when I call a school district and say, "Got school sentinels?" they have to tell me. When I call the Attorney General's office to ask whether any schools have submitted applicants for school sentinel training and whether any applicants have taken and passed that training, the Attorney General's office can tell me numbers and maybe even names.

But the only number the Attorney General's office has is zero. I called yesterday, and spokesperson Sara Rabern confirmed that, since the enactment of training and certification rules on September 17, 2013, no schools have submitted applications, no school staff have come to Pierre for training, and no teachers or janitors or other school personnel are currently roaming our school halls as certified school sentinels. This fact is consistent with previous reports of skepticism and widespread condemnation of the school gunslinger program among school officials, as well as concerns that arming school staff would cause schools to lose their liability insurance.

I have contacted Senator Monroe to ask where he got his information to the contrary. I await his response.

Update 2015.02.15 11:18 CST: I originally reported, based on my listening to the SDPB audio of the hearing, that Senator Craig Tieszen had made the "zero" hand gesture and made the comment "No, that is a zero." Senator Tieszen informs us (see below in comment section) that that gesture and comment came not from him but from lobbyist Dick Tieszen, who was in the audience at the hearing. I have amended the above text to reflect Senator Tieszen's clarification, and I apologize for the error.

57 comments

Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) made crystal clear what all the guns bills in South Dakota's Legislature are really about. The Pierre Senator opened his commentary on Senate Bill 162, the Capitol gunslinger bill, with this statement:

I can see both sides of this, I could vote both ways, one to keep my rating, and the other to try to keep things with the way the state patrol goes [Senator Jeff Monroe, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, South Dakota Legislature, 2015.02.12, timestamp 44:18].

Keep my rating—as in NRA rating. Senator Monroe cast the sole vote in favor of SB 162, indicating that for him, keeping his NRA rating up is more important than listening to the expert security assessment of the South Dakota Highway Patrol. Senator Monroe places your physical safety behind his electoral safety.

Alas, even those sensible enough to vote against such bad legislation feel the need to ply the NRA line. Freshman Senator Art Rusch (R-17/Vermillion) opened his speech on SB 162 by saying that he is not anti-gun, that he has a concealed weapons permit, and that he has had gun training. Senator Troy Heinert (D-26A/Mission) prefaced his remarks similarly: "I too am a gun owner, have a permit for concealed carry, but I also signed up to legislate." Senator Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell) didn't mention his gun ownership during his initial, intelligent critique of SB 162, but after Senator Monroe's NRA reminder, Senator Vehle returned to the mic with this hasty addendum:

I just wanted to add that I'm not anti-gun. I own a lot of guns, and I have a concealed carry permit, so I am—that was not my point, if anyone wants to think of that. I just wanted to make that clear [Senator Mike Vehle, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, South Dakota Legislature, 2015.02.12, timestamp 45:26].

Sorry, Mike, Troy, Art—you voted against a gun bill. Someday, someone in a primary is going to point to that big nasty minus next to your NRA A. Woe unto thee for trying exercise good sense!

18 comments

Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) doesn't care about my economic liberty, but he sure cares about my academic liberty. He's so worried that I won't have the freedom in my classroom to promote critical thinking, scientific inquiry, and respectful discussion of differences of opinion that he's proposed Senate Bill 114, "to encourage and protect the teaching of certain scientific information."

When Republicans like Jeff Monroe presume to tell teachers like me how to conduct respectful and intelligent debate, you know something fishy is going on.

SB 114 is really a sneaky retread of Senator Monroe's attempt last year to write intelligent design and other bushwah (yeah, bushwah, as in, not opinion, not scientific theory, but superstition and falsehood masquerading as real science) into K-12 curriculum across South Dakota.

To make sure there is no misundertanding, let's review the text of Senator Monroe's bill in full. SB 114 creates a completely new section under our education statutes in SDCL Chapter 13-1:

Section 1. That chapter 13-1 be amended by adding thereto a NEW SECTION to read as follows:

The South Dakota Board of Education, local school boards, and all school administrators shall:

  1. Endeavor to create an environment within all elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific subjects taught in curriculum and coursework that is aligned to the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48; and
  2. Assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific subjects such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, human cloning, and other scientific subjects that may cause debate and disputation.

In addition, neither the Board of Education, nor any local school board, or school administrator may prohibit any teacher from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the courses being taught that are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48.

Section 2. The provisions of this Act only protect the teaching of scientific information and may not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, to promote discrimination for or against any particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or to promote discrimination for or against any religion or nonreligion.

Section 3. By no later than the start of the 2015-2016 school year, the secretary of education shall notify all school administrators of the provisions of this Act, and the school administrators within each school district shall notify all teachers within that school district of the provisions of this Act [Senate Bill 114, original text, filed 2015.01.27].

Section 1 is absolutely unnecessary. The Board of Education, local school boards, and school administrators already provide teachers with tools and help to find the resources enumerated. We already have all the tools we need to tell Monroe's little minions why intelligent design is as imaginary as unicorns.

Section 2 is absolutely unnecessary. Scientific information is already made freely available in our K-12 curricula... except when conservatives like Senator Monroe try to block the teaching of honest information about birth control. Plus, we already have the First Amendment to prevent proselytizing in the classroom.

Section 3 is unnecessary grandstanding. Do we not assume that teachers are aware of all relevant statutes to their profession? Why should we read them just Jeff Monroe's pretty statute? Why not set aside a whole day of in-service before school starts to have Senator Monroe and legislators in every district come to their schools to recite chapter and verse the entirety of Title 13?

Senator Monroe proposes a hoghouse vehicle for an unnecessary intelligent design debate. Meanwhile, he ignores the fact that the low teacher pay his legislative negligence facilitates is leaving us with fewer and fewer teachers who can explain science, fact, and logic to students. Maybe that's been his "intelligent design" all along.

13 comments

Mike Rounds gets one newspaper endorsement, from his hometown Pierre Capital Journal. The editorial board in our capital tepidly defaults to experience on every statewide ballot line. They excuse Rounds thus:

We are well aware of the ongoing federal investigation into the EB-5 mess, and although significant questions remain, the experience Rounds brings outweighs any negatives from that issue ["Our Endorsements," Pierre Capital Journal, 2014.11.03].

They darn Rep. Kristi Noem with similar faint praise:

Republican incumbent Kristi Noem has more experience than Democrat Corinna Robinson and gets our endorsement. However, our board shares fairly broad agreement across party lines that Noem is a lackluster performer in the U.S. House, standing for non-controversial causes such as the move to stop human trafficking (as though anyone would take the other side of that issue) or predictable Midwest causes such as the farm bill – legislation from which her own family’s farm operation harvests plenty in taxpayer subsidies, as a letter elsewhere on this page observes. Noem deserves credit for taking a strong stand for conservation provisions in that bill, however [PCJ, 2014.11.03].

Even tough decider Governor Dennis Daugaard gets a bit of ho-hum from his closest monitors:

While we cannot see a great many accomplishments, we don’t see very much to fault him for, either [PCJ, 2014.11.03].

The only exception to the Pierre editors' safe embrace of company-town incumbency comes in the District 24 Senate race, where they reject Republican Senator Jeff Monroe's low-achieving in favor of trying something new and Democratic:

Our recommendation: We favor the Democratic candidate, Ruth Rehn, over the incumbent Republican, Jeff Monroe. The consensus on our editorial board is that, just as Rehn is contending, Monroe has not been very effective in his latest stint in the Legislature. Ruth Rehn is not the first to draw attention to this point. It was also the point of attack for Monroe’s fellow Republican in the primary, former lawmaker Tad Perry, who emphasized his success in getting legislation passed as the main difference between him and Monroe. The point still holds. We think it is time to give someone else a try and see if another candidate is better at getting thoughtful legislation enacted for South Dakota and District 24 [PCJ, 2014.11.03].

Like Senator Phil Jensen, Senator Jeff Monroe posts dangerous and dumb Glenn-Beck-karaoke bills that get in the way of practical lawmaking to do real good for all South Dakotans. The Pierre Capital Journal appears to recognize the importance of results... but only when the candidate is not a big-name statewide star. But the paper is at least showing a spark of critical thinking. Keep heading down that path, Pierre!

10 comments

I told you that Senate Bills 101 and 112, Senator Jeff Monroe's silly proposals to let teachers spout off whatever random commentary they wish in their classrooms (or anyone else's) about fetuses and creationism, were poorly written legislation.

Even Senator Monroe himself agrees. On Thursday, he put his legislative tail between his legs and withdrew SB 101 and SB 112. From KCCR (which doesn't archive stories for permanent linkage, dang it!):

Saying there was too much confusion about the intent of the legislation, state Senator Jeff Monroe of Pierre Thursday withdrew bills dealing with the instruction of intelligent design and allowing teachers to provide instruction on "personhood before birth."

Both bills were withdrawn Thursday morning before being heard by the Senate Education Committee ["Monroe Pulls Bills on Intelligent Design, Personhood," KCCR Radio, 2014.02.06].

Chet Brokaw get a little more detail from Senator Monroe admitting that the Madville Times was right:

The measure's main sponsor, Sen. Jeff Monroe, R- Pierre, said he had to scrap the bill because it was badly written but didn't elaborate. He said supporters from across the nation have said there are far better ways to address the issue, but he declined to say what he might do in the future.

"I don't mind a good fight, but the amount of good that would have come from the bill would have been outweighed by all the misconceptions people have had," Monroe said. "I didn't want to put the people in that committee in a tight sport. Some agreed with the bill, but they would have had to vote against it, based on the fact it was written poorly" [Chet Brokaw, "South Dakota Bill Allowing Teachers to Discuss Intelligent Design Killed at Sponsor's Request," AP, 2014.02.06].

Senator Monroe tells KCCR that he talked to "think tanks" around the country. It doesn't take a think tank to recognize a bad idea, Senator.

Senator Monroe tells KCCR he won't bring these topics up again in this year's session, but he will look for other forums in which to promote his anti-woman, anti-science agenda. Looks like this blog will stay in business for quiet some time....

6 comments

Senator Monroe, have you considered applying intelligent design to your legislation?

First Pierre Republican Senator Jeff Monroe proposes Senate Bill 101, which he thinks pushes his favored fetal-personhood propaganda into public schools but which really opens the door for teachers of any subject and ideological stripe to say whatever they want about conception and sex in any classroom, without fear of any punishment or control from their administrations or school boards.

Not satisfied with that error, Senator Monroe opens the floodgates further with Senate Bill 112, which uses the same language as SB 101 to open every classroom to lectures on intelligent design:

No school board or school administrator may prohibit a teacher in public or nonpublic school from providing instruction on intelligent design or other related topics.

Even if I shared Senator Monroe's agenda of forcing the lies of intelligent design on South Dakota's children, I would never have written legislation like this. Just like SB 101, SB 112 is absurdly overbroad. Let us read the bill literally:

  • a teacher: Neither bill specifies teachers on staff. They apply to anyone holding a teaching certificate.
  • in a public or nonpublic school: So a teacher walks into a school. I walk into a school where I don't work, stand on a table in the lunchroom, and start talking to kids. As long as I discuss the topics referenced in SB 101 and 112, I'm immune from interference from school officials.
  • providing instruction on intelligent design: I am free to instruct the kids that intelligent design is bunk. I can instruct students that evolution works without any tinkering by any imagined deity.
  • and other related topics: Since we're on the topic, a more radical atheist teacher could throw to the kids that God is a figment of childish, insecure imaginations.

SB 112, like SB 101, absurdly demolishes administrative supervision of classrooms and curriculum. French teachers could spend days rambling about evolution or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and principals could not interrupt, discipline, suspend, or fire those French teachers for such professional malpractice. Senator Monroe also imposes state control on private religious schools, who might very much want to enforce a creationist curriculum but find a converting wolf among their sheep. Imagine a teacher at St. Thomas More or Great Plains Lutheran wakes up one morning, sees the darkness, and comes to school to debunk all the lies in the school's Gospel-based "science" books. That teacher starts praising Darwin, and pious administrators find their hands tied by Senator Monroe's ill-considered legislation.

Senator Monroe, I know you're enjoying your time in the Legislature as an opportunity to turn talk-radio karaoke into your personal fantasy of culture-war glory. But you still have to write bills that, on the off chance of a drunk majority, would not create havoc if enacted. SB 101 and SB 112 would create havoc. Withdraw them now, before the Senate Education Committee has to embarrass you on the record.

23 comments

The anti-abortionist fervor to fight their fetus crusade on every battlefield leads to really bad legislation. Consider Senate Bill 101, an effort by Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) to wedge more of the culture war into our schools:

No school board or school administrator may prohibit a teacher in a public or nonpublic school from providing instruction on personhood before birth or other related topics.

Senator Monroe apparently was so busy thinking, "Love babies! Take over the schools!" that he didn't pay attention to the meaning of the words in his bill. An objective and literal reading of SB 101 opens this possibility:

A high school French teacher walks into his classroom. He begins a lesson on French food. Oo la la, les crêpes, le croque-monsiuer.... Suddenly he stops, jumps on a desk, and shouts, "Students! Fetuses are not people! They are not citizens under the Constitution! The only person in a position to decide whether a pregnancy should continue and whether a fetus should be allowed to be born and become a person is the woman who is pregnant!" All of those statements constitute instruction on personhood before birth.

But the French teacher reads SB 101 closely. (French teachers are smart like that.) He recognizes that sex is a precondition to fetuses and birth. Sex is thus a related topic under SB 101. The French teacher thus begins to converse with the students about their sexual activity and discusses the pros and cons of various forms of birth control so they can avoid having to confront the quandary of embryonic personhood.

The principal walks in and is aghast. "You can't talk about fetuses!" the principal shouts. "You're supposed to be teaching French! Stop that!"

"Mais non!" tuts the French teacher, handing the principal his copy of SB 101. "You cannot prohibit a teacher, any teacher, from teaching such things."

The principal remembers SB 101, sighs, and hurries away to a meeting on Common Core data-mining and mind control, leaving the French teacher to continue the conversation with a group of surprised but unusually attentive students.

Senator Monroe, thank you. Please do pass this bill, exactly as written. I can't wait to get back to teaching in South Dakota.

9 comments

As an example of the incompetence and cronyism that warrants Secretary of State Jason Gant's immediate resignation, take a look at the October 26, 2012, campaign finance filing of State Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre).

Secretary of State Jason Gant lists this filing as a "pre-general" filing. That can't be right, though, because Jeff Monroe faced no challenger in the general election. He won his seat in the GOP primary in June 2012, in which he ousted Senator Tad Perry by less than a percentage point. Monroe himself fails to indicate on the form whether his filing was pre-general, supplemental, or what-have-you. In his sloppiness, Monroe also fails to indicate the cash he had on hand at the time of his last campaign finance filing (pre-primary, May 25) and separate previously reported contributions and expenses from subsequent transactions.

But Secretary Gant happily stamps this report received and files it away.

Also of interest are the first two expenditures Monroe lists on his October 26 report. Pat Powers received two payments, one for $1,057.94, another for $212.00. Again, Monroe fails to delineate these itemized expenditures on his October 26 report from the general printing and advertising expenditures he listed on his May 25 report, so it's impossible to tell when he spent this money.

But what would candidate Monroe have paid Pat Powers $1270 for? One can only assume it was Powers's widely advertised campaign consulting and advertising services. Did Monroe send out $1270 worth of post cards in the run-up to an uncontested general election? Probably not. It seems much more likely that $1270 paid for services that Monroe used to win his primary election in spring 2012... during which time Pat Powers was still gainfully employed in Secretary of State Jason Gant's office.

That Jason Gant allowed his then-employee and patronage beneficiary to operate a political commercial enterprise while enjoying full access to the resources of the Secretary of State's office is not a new revelation. But as that former employee continues his role as Gant's chief public apologist, it is important that we remember all the ways in which Secretary Gant has violated the public trust. Jeff Monroe's campaign inaccurate and uncorrected October 26, 2012, campaign filing is a useful artifact to reinforce that memory as we urge Secretary of State Jason Gant to step down and let the Governor appoint someone who can handle the job.

8 comments

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