Betty Olson has her name on another gun bill! Whoo-hoo!

Actually, Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) is leading the way on Senate Bill 162, a proposal to allow legislators to carry concealed weapons in the State Capitol.

Freeze, Brock—tell us the last time you or any other legislator experienced a threat in the Capitol that would have warranted response with a firearm. If you can cite any such instance of clear and present threat, tell us the last time state troopers were not available to handle said threat.

Conservatives like Greenfield, Olson, and its House sponsors DiSanto, Latterell, Russell, and Stalzer should revolt at a bill like Senate Bill 162. Isn't a situation where only the government has guns exactly the tyranny gun nuts dread?

Imagine I approach Senator Corey Brown at the Capitol for a sincere Cory-to-Corey chat about how his efforts to undermine Independents and ballot initiatives are unjust (and about how he spells his name wrong). After a few moments of looking past me, he opens his jacket, exposes the pistol holstered under his shoulder, and says, "I'm sorry—are you talking to me?" Legislative immunity won't excuse Brown's shooting me, but I'm not sure I like the power imbalance.

If we're going to let legislators swagger about the Capitol packing heat, doesn't fairness (not to mention Sean Connery in The Untouchables) demand that we let everyone carry a gun? Ah ha! In comes House Bill 1183, where Olson and Greenfield switch sponsor slots and call for repealing the entire ban on concealed weapons in the Capitol. I think they're just trying to trick us into "compromise."

But HB 1183 exposes another aspect of gun-advocate thinking that I don't get. HB 1183 removes the Capitol from the general ban on guns in courthouses, but then it writes a new statute that makes it a misdemeanor to carry a pistol in the Capitol unless you carry it concealed, under a concealed weapons permit. Why would you make it a crime to openly carry a gun into the Capitol but not to sneak a gun in in your britches (or, in Senator Olson's case, your mountain lion-skin purse)?

The State Capitol, our great Temple of Democracy and Reason, is no place for guns. Both House Bill 1883 and Senate Bill 162 are expressions of unwarranted fear and a lack of faith in our institutions of civil society. Senate Bill 162 is gun control at its worse, where only outlaws and legislators have guns. (I invite you to discern which are which.)

p.s.: I can imagine a similar critique of Senate Bill 105, in which Senator Betty Olson and numerous co-sponsors asked that legislators be given access to the Capitol complex tunnels. If legislators get to venture into the underworld, so ought we all! Senator Olson withdrew SB 105 yesterday; I say bring it back, bigger and better, for all South Dakotans!

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While South Dakota Republicans chip away at the initiative and referendum, South Dakota Democrats are trying to protect the will of the people. Every Democrat in the South Dakota Legislature is backing House Bill 1175, a measure to insulate ballot measures from legislative tinkering. The bill text is brief:

If a measure is submitted to the voters of the state, legislation may not be proposed to affect the will of the voters for a period of one year after the vote on the measure, or the date of enactment, whichever is later.

Notice that HB 1175 would work both ways. If an initiated measure like our minimum-wage increase passed, legislators could not amend or repeal that popularly enacted law for one year. If a referendum succeeded and we repealed a law, legislators could not try to put that law back into effect for a year. Had HB 1175 been in effect in 2013, after we referred and repealed Governor Daugaard's really nasty and counterproductive education reform law in 2012, the Legislature would not have been able to propose bills to restore that law in full or in part; they would not have been able to resurrect the Critical Needs Teaching Scholarship, the sole productive component of that messy education reform package, until 2014.

On the other hand, if an initiative or referendum were to fail, HB 1175 would prevent legislators from revisiting those measures. If voters rejected an initiative to raise sales tax to increase funding for education and health care (as we did in 2012 on Initiated Measure 15), the next year's Legislature could not take up a bill to enact such an increase for such a purpose. I assume that legislators could take up a bill to increase the sales tax for other purposes, and they could take up a bill to increase funding for education and health care by different means.

A failed referendum vote—i.e., a vote in which voters chose to leave the challenged law in place—would lock that law in place in a way that simple legislative passage does not. Had Governor Daugaard's education reform withstood referendum in 2012, it would have become the voters' will, and HB 1175 would have protected it from any amendment in the 2013 session. Lawmakers could not have acted on a change of heart or fixed any gaps in that law until 2014.

I have argued that South Dakota Republicans are trying to weaken the initiative and referendum not for principle or public welfare but for pure political self-interest: they tend to lose initiatives and referenda, and they don't want the pesky electorate messing with GOP power and plans. My Republican readers could retort that Democrats are backing HB 1175 for the same selfish political reasons: South Dakota Democrats see initiatives and referenda as policymaking, organizing, and recruiting activities that serve their partisan interests.

But even if both sides are selfish bastards, the Democrats' defense of initiative and referendum versus the Republicans' attack thereupon demonstrates a fundamental difference in what the two parties think about Us the People. Republicans don't trust us. They cautiously let us vote for elected officials (even there, they throw up roadblocks), but they don't trust us to exercise legislative power directly. They want us, the unwashed and passion-addled mob, to trust those decisions to the elites, the elected officials in whose ears the corporate lobbyists drip their honey. They want a Republic.

Democrats do trust us. They want as many people as possible to vote not just for leaders, but for policies. They believe we the masses really can read, write, and pass good legislation. They recognize the fundamental unfairness in allowing legislators an almost immediate veto over our will while requiring us to undertake the lengthy and arduous process of gathering signatures and campaigning in a general election to challenge legislative action or inaction. Democrats say, "Let the people vote, and let their will stand." Democrats want a democracy.

House Bill 1175 poses some interesting legal questions about how the Legislature would go about fixing problems in initiated laws or laws that withstand referendum. But House Bill 1175 is the only good idea pertaining to initiative referendum to emerge yet from the 2015 Legislature. Turn up the heat on your phones and e-mails, and tell your legislators this is the one I&R bill they should support.

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Funny the ideas that pop up when one blogs and teachers. In our blog discussion Tuesday of House Bill 1089, the proposed ban on female genital mutilation, I mentioned my college-days battle against multiculturalism. I walked into class today and found students reading a text on multiculturalism in literary theory. I mentioned my concerns about value  relativism to the students (how can we critique Western culture of multiculturalism encourages us to value and celebrate all cultures?). But then I read this passage that casts multiculturalism as a healthy democratic response to oppression:

As opposed to the hierarchies set up by European colonists, [Frantz] Fanon imagined the independent Algerian republic working on the principles of extreme decentralization, with contact and interchange between the leaders and the rank and file, and a clear understanding that the government would be at the service of the masses. In addition, he said, "Women will have exactly the same place as men, not only in the clauses of the constitution but in the life of every day: in the factory, at school, and in the parliament." The living expression of the nation would be found not in the leaders, the palaces, or rituals of politics, but in "the moving consciousness of the whole of the people: it is the coherent, enlightened action of men and women" [Stephen Bonnycastle, In Search of Authority, 2007, p. 231].

Decentralization, encouraging the rank and file to make their own decisions, expecting leaders to communicate with and respond to the people, supporting women's equality, legislating with a focus on helping more people express their will... almost the perfect opposite of what Republicans are doing to South Dakota.

And then it hits me: we are being colonized by our own legislators. Co-opted by corporate imperialists, our legislators are putting us in chains, disrespecting the popular will, and dehumanizing us to make easier their seizure of our wealth and pollution of our land and water.

We children of empire now fight the new corporate empire. We colonizers become the colonized. I may have to revisit my SDSU textbook on multiculturalism.

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What is it about conservative Christians and their inability to simply argue a point on its merits without resorting to hyperbolizing it into the most important thing ever?

In the South Dakota Legislature's continuing obsession with form over substance, Rep. Scott Craig (R-33/Rapid City) declares that a symbolic and hence impotent vote on House Concurrent Resolution 1004 is the most important thing any legislator will do this session:

Rep. Scott Craig, R-Rapid City, read from the final lines of the resolution that say the court erred and that ask the court to let states make the decisions on abortion.

“These are your words,” Craig told House members. “This is by far the most significant yes vote any one of us can cast this session” [Bob Mercer, "SD House Wants End to Legal Abortion," Rapid City Journal, 2015.01.29].

Rep. Craig apparently mistakes a stemwinding sermon for real statecraft. No vote on any resolution, even this ponderous 6750-word monster, will exceed in practical import any bill, no matter how small, that changes the law and the rules under which our democratic society functions. Yesterday's speeches and votes on HCR 1004 won't feed any kids, free any oppressed women, or, frankly, stop one abortion or unplanned pregnancy or instance of scandalous premarital sex.

I guess we have to keep reminding legislators of physics: Work is force applied over a distance. Rep. Craig and friends can exert their rhetorical force all day on their culture-war issues, but if they don't move practical results, they aren't getting any work done. Get to work, Legislature.

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House State Affairs gave short shrift to Rep. Steve Hickey's (R-9/Sioux Falls) House Bill 1086 Wednesday. Rep. Hickey wants the Legislature to spend the summer studying what it would do in case of a national economic collapse that would leave South Dakota without the federal aid on which it depends for nearly 40% of its budget. The committee listened for a few minutes, then killed the bill, 12–1. (Rep. Hickey's only ally: Rep. Scott Munsterman, R-7/Brookings, who may also believe a Long Economic Winter, if not The End, is nigh.)

Rep. Mike Verchio (R-30/Hill City) voted to kill HB 1086. In a Facebook conversation, Rep. Verchio tells the good Hickey that the Legislature has "much bigger issues to cover"...

...issues like those covered by the five bills Rep. Verchio is prime-sponsoring:

  1. HB 1112 to nudge up county power to restrict fireworks (how very Republican).
  2. HJR 1002 asking President Obama to pardon Peter L. Larson, dinosaur hunter.
  3. SB 79 to exempt all trailers from the county wheel tax... at a time when counties desperately need revenue to fix their roads.
  4. SB 107 to fiddle with the statutory language on drivers' learners permits. increase the period an instructor permit is valid and to revise the requirements to upgrade to an operator's licence or a restricted minor's permit.
  5. SB 152 in pork for his home district to fight an arguably unwinnable battle against pine beetles, who are simply nature's response to our mixed-up forest priorities.

Much bigger issues? Maybe. I'm curious, though: how does one determine what constitutes a greater priority for the Legislature? Are there principles one can apply... or do we just trot out that line about "much bigger issues" to dismiss conversations we find too complicated or unpleasant to have?

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Call Senator Brown now, and ask him why he fears democracy.

Call Senator Brown now, and ask him why he fears democracy.

Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) has perverted Senate Bill 69, the cornerstone of the petition reform package, into an effort to make it harder for Independents to get on the ballot. Not satisfied with that damage, Senator Brown now files Senate Bill 166, which continues the Republican war on the people's power of initiative and referendum.

Current statute (SDCL 2-1-5) uses the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election to determine how many signatures are necessary to place an initiated measure or referred law on the ballot. Per SDCL 2-1-1, initiated laws and referenda require signatures of 5% of those gubernatorial voters. Given the turnout of 277,403 voters in the 2014 gubernatorial election, petitions for initiatives and referenda in the next two cycles will require 13,871 signatures to make the ballot.

Because initiatives and referenda tend to go badly for his party, Republican Senator Brown wants to repeal SDCL 2-1-5 and replace the signature count not on the number of people who actually voted in the last gubernatorial election but on the number who could have voted. Assuming he means registered voters on November 3, 2014, that's 521,041. SB 166 would thus nearly double the number of signatures needed to get measures on the ballot, to 26,053.

And because he knows folks are already planning initiatives that he doesn't like, Senator Brown includes an emergency clause in SB 166 to make sure no one could file an initiative before July 1 under the current, less onerous signature requirement.

South Dakotans, Senator Brown does not trust you. He wants to take away your constitutionally guaranteed power to make your own laws. Don't let him do that. Write or call Senator Brown and ask him how Senate Bill 166 serves the public interest.

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Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) has brought us Senate Bill 164, to require every student to pass a civics test before graduating high school. This bill continues our Legislature's dogged refusal to address the fundamental problem facing South Dakota's K-12 schools: the chronic underfunding of state aid to education that is driving the teacher shortage. SB 164 continues Republicans' habit of ignoring local control in education whenever a state mandate serves their craving for political posturing. Most importantly, Senate Bill 164 shows that Senator Jensen and his numerous co-sponsors flunk Bill-Writing 101.

Section 1 of Senate Bill 164 enacts the civics test mandate. Let me enumerate the sentences so we can better identify Senator Jensen's errors and omissions:

  1. Each student, before the completion of twelfth grade, shall demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles, and form of the United States government.
  2. The students, as a condition to receive a high school diploma, or a diploma's equivalent, must take a civics test about history and government.
  3. The test consists of one hundred questions used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to test an applicant to be a naturalized citizen of the United States.
  4. The student must correctly answer at least seventy percent of the questions on the civics test.
  5. A student may take the test at any time after enrolling in the seventh grade and may repeat the test as often as necessary to pass it.
  6. The requirement to pass this civics test applies to each student who is enrolled in a public school, enrolled in a nonpublic school, receiving alternative instruction pursuant to § 13-27-3, or pursuing a general educational development (GED) certificate.

Sentence 1 clutters the law books with redundant fluff.  It is lawmakers making a speech before getting to the real specifics of the law.

Sentence 2 gets to work, conditioning receipt of a high school diploma on taking a civics test. Note that it fouls the language of Sentence 1, which says one must "demonstrate knowledge" of civics "before the completion of twelfth grade." A student could finish twelfth grade by passing every senior year class but still not have passed the civics test requirement and thus still not have received the diploma. Sentence 1 could be read to say that students don't get to take the test after the end of senior year; if they haven't passed the test by then, they don't get to try again and don't get the diploma.

Sentence 3 assigns students to take the 100-question test USCIS officials give to immigrants seeking to become citizens. But unlike the widely available online versions offered for fun and edification, the real test is an oral quiz in which a USCIS officer asks the applicant up to 10 of the 100 questions. It's not multiple choice. I suspect SB 164's sponsors will make speeches justifying the civics test requirement as simply requiring our students to demonstrate the same knowledge as immigrants aspiring to citizenship. However, Sentence 3 fails to specify whether we would indeed replicate that immigrant testing experience, whether we want to make it harder by asking all 100 questions, or whether we want to make it easier with multiple-choice hints on a written bubble test.

Sentence 4 clearly diverges from the naturalization test, which requires applicants to get at least six out of ten right. I prefer the 70% passing rate myself, but why diverge from the USCIS requirement? For that matter, if civics is important enough to merit a state-mandated test, why not go higher? Why not require 100%?

Sentence 5 offers some fun, allowing kids to take the test any time in junior high (anyone still call it that?) or high school. Notice it says "any time." Technically, that means every teacher must have a civics checklist on her tablet at every moment. If a lecture is getting dull or if the teacher is about to give an onerous homework assignment, the clever student can shout, "I'm ready for my civics test!" and boom!—SB 164 requires the teacher to stop the lesson cold and administer the civics test to that student. The student can fail the test with no consequences and pull the same civics-test alarm the next day, and the next, whenever it seems the class needs a break. Such disruption is not the intent of the bill, but the absolute language of Sentence 5 does not provide schools with the statutory authority to impose limits on when students can take the test. (As a teacher, I understand how a classroom and a school day works. I think of these things. As a legislator, Senator Jensen does not think through these things.)

Sentence 6 is fine, applying the requirement to every student, including homeschoolers, how will now enjoy another Republican-sponsored state mandate in their homes.

I actually like the concept of universal administration of the civics test. I bet our senior government teachers are already drilling students on the content of the naturalization test and much harder questions. If I were teaching social studies, I'd have all sorts of fun administering this civics test (and yes, even though it would take more time, I would do it as an oral exam, because that is one of the surest, most cheat-resistant to see what a kid knows).

But there is the deepest flaw of this bill. Senator Jensen and his fellow legislators come wading into my classroom, acting as if they are the experts on education, as if they've come up with a brilliant idea that we professional teachers haven't already tried and modified. They just don't trust us teachers to do the job we've been trained to do.

Senate Bill 164 has good intentions, but it's poorly written and unnecessary. Let's hoghouse it and require legislators to take the civics test before they can take their oath of office. And let's require any legislator to spend a week substitute-teaching before they file any bills trying to tell teachers how to do their jobs.

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It would be fun to have Rep. Dan Kaiser as my Representative. His seven bills provide all sorts of fun blog discussion!

Worth mentioning is Rep. Kaiser's House Bill 1127, which would exempt South Dakota from Daylight Savings Time. Alas, the wording appears a bit confused as to just where it wants to lock in the clocks:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary by the United States relating to the adoption of daylight savings time by all of the states, the state of South Dakota elects to reject daylight savings time and elects to continue use in force standard time, or summer hours [House Bill 1127, original text, posted 2015.01.27].

Correct me if I'm reading something wrong here, but Daylight Savings Time is the clock we use in the summer (and the first half of fall, the last couple weeks of winter, and all of spring). Standard Time is what we're doing right now. If South Dakota rejects Daylight Savings Time, it rejects "summer hours." The language of this bill contradicts itself.

If the intent of this bill is to reject Daylight Savings Time and keep "winter hours," we face an interesting timing question. We switch to Daylight Savings Time this year on March 8. With no emergency clause appended, HB 1127 would take effect on July 1, which is a Wednesday. HB 1127 would thus have us set our clocks back across South Dakota in the middle of a workweek, which I'm sure would wreak all sorts of mirthful chaos at the office. With everyone's work and sleep schedule mixed up, we should just call a five-day weekend for the Fourth of July and let everyone get rested. (Oh! Bonus to HB 1127: fireworks displays could start an hour earlier for the kids!)

I have mixed feelings on Daylight Savings Time. I love the later sunsets it brings us. Sunshine past nine p.m. East River fills me with bliss. But I appreciate rolling out of bed and blogging by the glorious dawn light of Standard Time instead of the delayed sunrises of Daylight Savings. We just can't have it all....

Of course, if we really want to get fundamentalist about time, maybe we should amend HB 1127 to adopt Mountain Time statewide. The brief confusion caused by switching our clocks back or forth an hour twice a year is nothing compared to the daily confusion for folks doing business statewide keeping straight Central and Mountain Time. Time zones should center around meridians so that solar noon (the time when the sun is highest in the sky) as 12:00 p.m. In Madison, high noon comes around 12:45 p.m. Standard Time and 1:45 p.m. Daylight Savings Time. In Pierre, high noon comes at 12:54 p.m. Standard; in summertime, solar noon is almost tea time. If we unify South Dakota under Mountain Time, noon will be closer to noon, and we will bring East River and West River together, two clocks, finally ticking as one.

When do you prefer your sun? Should we keep fiddling with our clocks? I'm eager for the discussion of Daylight Savings Time here and in House State Affairs.

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