Last week I noted Rep. Jim Stalzer's (R-11/Sioux Falls) insult to college students in defense of his dying guns-on-campus bill on the House floor. Evidently, Rep. Stalzer insulted cops, too:

Mike Walsh, South Dakota’s president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Rep. Jim Stalzer’s, R-Sioux Falls, comment that concealed weapons carriers are more law-abiding than law enforcement officers was “irresponsible” and “disturbing.”

...Walsh said he challenges any legislator to find a state with fewer law enforcement members who have been discharged from duty or charged with a crime.

Walsh said that during a hearing for House Bill 1206, which would have authorized the concealed carry of pistols on public university campuses under certain circumstances, Stalzer said that calling 911 was like calling “dial a prayer”.

“My first thought was that it’s unprofessional to make statements like that to begin with and to base it on something other than actual real data is irresponsible,” Walsh said. “He’s making comments about law enforcement that are completely unjustified. I think law enforcement in South Dakota deserves an apology from him” [Mark Walker, "Police Group Wants Apology from State Lawmaker," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.02.25].

Let me check: if students are mad at Stalzer, and if police are mad at Stalzer, it should be pretty easy to beat Stalzer in 2016, right? And Stalzer should be backpedaling, right?

Stalzer, reached by phone Wednesday, said he will not apologize for his comments. He said his argument was based a report from the Crime Prevention Research Center.

“My intention was not to slam police officers, but rather to compare the honesty and integrity of concealed and carry permit holder to police officers,” Stalzer said. “Unless the report is proven false, I don’t think I have anything to apologize for” [Walker, 2015.02.25].

Rep. Stalzer, you pretty much said it all at "I don't think." If a legislator shoots his mouth off with so little regard for his targets, maybe we should hesitate to let him carry a gun.

Also not needing to apologize will be any District 11 candidate who takes out ads against Stalzer saying, "Stalzer says police lack honesty and integrity." Or heck, just shorten that to "Stalzer hates cops." Unless that statement is proven false, you don't have anything to apologize for.

For the record, here is the offending portion of Rep. Stalzer's February 19 floor speech:

This is "Concealed Permit Holders Across the United States" by the Crime Prevention Research Center which was founded by Dr. John Lott. In Florida they have issued 2.6 million permits over 25 years, and tey've had to rescind 168 of them for some kind of a firearms violation. But it's getting better. From January 2008 to May of 2014 they've only had to rvoke four permits out of the almost 900,000 that are currently in effect. Actually in Florida police officers have more firearms violations than concealed carry permit holders.

In Texas there are over 600,000 permits and they've had 120 where there was a conviction of a misdemeanor or a felony, very few of which involved firearms. And with all due respect to our colleague who is a police officer, the crime rate for police officers is higher than the crime rate for concealed carry permit holders.

[Booing is heard in background; Stalzer laughs nervously].

In Texas it's six times higher, and in Florida it's ten times higher. I do not believe our colleague falls in that category [Rep. Jim Stalzer, remarks on House Bill 1206, South Dakota House, 2015.02.19, timestamp 44:23].

The report Stalzer cites comes from gun advocate John Lott, a "perpetual misinformation machine" for the gun lobby. He was exposed over a decade ago as having based a major pro-gun study on error and fraud, but that hasn't stopped the NRA and gun nuts like Rep. Stalzer from providing a market for Lott's product. Media Matters neatly and linkily dismisses Lott's research:

Lott's research on gun issues, including his famous "more guns, less crime" theory, has been discredited in academic circles and he has faced credible accusations of data manipulation and fabrication. He often twists statistics on gun violence in order to advance a pro-gun agenda [links in original; Timothy Johnson, "NRA-Friendly Washington Times Turns To Discredited Gun Researcher John Lott," Media Matters, 2014.10.10].

Another article notes that Lott himself, writing under a pseudonym, once contended that we should completely dismiss the arguments of an academic who engaged in the above behavior. That article then applies that same standard to Lott:

Time and time again Lott has abused his academic credentials to peddle falsehoods. Instead of soberly presenting evidence, and letting the research speak for itself, Lott instead authored his own fan-base, fabricated evidence, manipulated models, mischaracterized data, and then attempted to bulldoze anybody that dared question the authenticity of his research. This is not the behavior of someone who is interested in truth-seeking; it is the behavior of an ideologue who is concerned only with making his opinions as loud and virulent as possible [Evan DeFilippis and Devin Hughes, "Shooting Down the Gun Lobby's Favorite 'Academic': A Lott of Lies," Armed with Reason, 2014.12.01].

You ready to apologize yet, Rep. Stalzer?

The report itself looks like another exercise in cherry-picking. Lott cites Florida concealed weapons permit revocation rates for firearms violations. That's far from the overall crime rate. That's not even the full list of crimes that could provoke revocation of a concealed weapons permit, like domestic abuse or possession of controlled substances.

Lott also cherry-picks dates, looking at Florida police firearms violations from 2005 to 2007 while peddling the concealed weapons permit revocation numbers from 1987 to 2014 and emphasizing those numbers from 2008 to 2014. You can't draw conclusions from differing crime rates over different populations in different eras to guide policy right now.

Comparing firearms violations among police and civilians also seems prone to a fatal statistical flaw. Suppose we were looking at nail gun violations (if there were such a thing). I imagine we would find more nail gun violations (accidental discharge, improperly stowing the device or its ammunition) among carpenters, who carry and use nail guns every day for work, than we would among weekend warriors who have nail guns in their garage but only use them for occasional home improvement projects. Ditto for comparing armed police and concealed weapons permit holders: police have their guns every day, every hour on duty. Concealed weapons permit holders do not train as much and do not carry and handle their weapons as frequently and as openly as police officers.

And like our legislators, forgetful or rebellious concealed weapons permit holders sneak their weapons into gun-free zones unnoticed on a regular basis, but those violations won't appear in Lott's warped statistics or any others.

Interestingly, when the question turns from concealed weapons permits to racism, Lott musters his mathematical legerdemain to dismiss as distortions accusations that police improperly use their weapons. Lott alternately defends and attacks police, as it suits his political agenda. Lott's "reports" should be taken as political propaganda, not as reliable scientific research.

Rep. Jim Stalzer should apologize for disguising his attack on the honesty and integrity on South Dakota's police as objective research. The lack of honesty and integrity is Rep. Stalzer's, and citizens of all stripes (police, students, etc.) should work to remove him from office.

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I'd love to see the state and the education establishment abandon Common Core and similar exercises in faux-accountability and paperwork. But that won't happen with opponents claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids:

We’ve buried eight kids down on that reservation in the last week. We need to sit up and pay attention. I’m not naive enough to think the Common Core is the… is what’s causing all of this, but it’s part of the effect. We’ve got teachers down there who have just quit teaching it, because the kids can't do it [Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), remarks on House Bill 1223, South Dakota House, 2015.02.24, timestamp 21:12].

At this point, Speaker Dean Wink (R-29/Howes) interrupted Rep. May to pull her back to the motion at hand, which was not the Common Core-repealing House Bill 1223 itself but the question of whether to place HB 1223 on the calendar for debate. Even if the House had allowed that debate to happen, the suggestion that Common Core leads to Indian youth suicide sounds more like a high school debate nuke-war disad (the classic argument that demonstrates that any federal policy change leads to mushroom clouds) than a useful legislative contention.

Suicide is a serious problem for our Native neighbors. The Pine Ridge Reservation has had waves of youth suicides since well before the adoption of Common Core. Dr. Delphine Red Shirt says the despair driving these suicides comes from the culture of fear imposed imposed by colonialism. Maybe we could make the argument that imposing Western rationalist curriculum standards on Indian reservations is one aspect of colonialism. But with the Department of Education warning that repealing Common Core would only require implementing new (Western rationalist) standards, and with Common Core opponents suggesting new standards, the colonialism critique doesn't get us anywhere on HB 1223.

But Rep. May wasn't making that deep critique. She seems to have been colonializing her Indian neighbors again, exploiting their pain to advance her political goal of the moment. This one ill-considered rhetorical tactic only weakened her position, opening education policy critics to ridicule from the national press, which lump her suicide claim in with other wild accusations made by Common Core opponents.

The Huffington Post lets Rep. May try to explain herself:

May clarified her comments for The Huffington Post, noting that, “Our suicide rate keeps increasing on the [Pine Ridge] reservation, our kids are under a lot of distress socially and economically.”

Indeed, the suicide rates of Native youth are disproportionately high around the country.

May further said she thinks the Common Core State Standards put too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“Very simple, testing, testing testing. They have to teach to the test. You know and I know and every teacher in the trenches on the reservation know it,” wrote May in an email. “It never is about children and teachers it's about a bureaucracy.”

“There’s kids who just won't go to school," she added over the phone. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children. We see it more in the depressed areas of our country. Not all children learn the same. We can't put everybody inside a box, it doesn’t work."

The Common Core State Standards do not necessarily increase amounts of standardized testing, but tests aligned with the standards have been noted for their rigor [Rebecca Klein, "South Dakota Legislator Suggests Common Core Contributed To Kids' Deaths," Huffington Post, 2015.02.27].

We can dismantle Rep. May's elaboration on straight logic:

  1. "Our suicide rate keeps increasing" indicates the problem has arisen from and will continue as a result of other factors. HB 1223 would not have solved.
  2. "too much emphasis on standardized testing" has been a critique of every standards movement (remember No Child Left Behind?). HB 1223 would have left the testing regime in place.
  3. "This is not even just about Indian children, but about all of our children"—then why did Rep. May's remarks on the House floor Tuesday talk about suicide among Indian children? Is there a spate of white youth suicides induced by Common Core that Rep. May left unmentioned? This comment sounds like Rep. May realizing she'd made a weak claim and trying to move the debate to a different topic.

We could beat back Common Core and other centralized intrusions on the art of good teaching with better, more practical arguments. Claiming that Common Core kills Indian kids only invites ridicule that prevents good arguments from being heard.

13 comments

The South Dakota Legislature will not require me to wear my bright pink t-shirt when I ride my bike. They may, however, require you motorists to give me three feet in town and six feet in the country.

Apparently listening to the bicycle community, Rep. Nancy Rasmussen (R-17/Hurley) went to House Transportation on February 17 and pulled the plug on her House Bill 1214, which would have required bicyclists to wear fluorescent or reflective clothing. Unlike Senator Corey Brown, when Rep. Rasmussen saw her bill was a bad idea, she didn't whine or threaten her opponents; she simply asked that the committee table her bill. Unlike most legislators, committee members Dennis Feickert, Jim Stalzer, and Mike Verchio did not automatically extend Rep. Rasmussen the standard courtesy of voting aye in response to a sponsor's tabling request. HB 1214 nonetheless died 10–3.

House Bill 1030, the "move over for bikes" bill, survived House Transportation, the full House, and Friday, Senate Transportation. You're already supposed to give any vehicle—motor or pedal—a "safe distance" when you pass; HB 1030 defines "safe distance" between cars and bikes as three feet at slower speeds and six feet at speeds above 35 miles per hour.

Department of Transportation lawyer Bill Nevin told Senate Transportation that the point of HB 1030 is not to write more tickets. The point is to educate everyone on the road and bring down the number of car-bicycle accidents. (Nevin said that from 2002 through 2013, South Dakota had 1,156 bicyclists injured—7 of them killed—in collisions with motor vehicles.)

Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-4/Florence), an avid cyclist, joined proponents testifying for HB 1030. He said cars frequently buzz by him within inches while he's riding... which is odd, because in all my riding, I rarely have such close encounters. Could South Dakota motorists be more inclined to buzz Republican legislators than liberal bloggers?

After additional proponentry from the Department of Public Safety, certified bicycle safety instructor Chris Parsley, and the American Heart Association, one opponent took the mic. Shane Barber, rancher and water tank manufacturer from Hermosa, ran the Gordon Howie critique, saying his road, twenty-foot-wide Lower Spring Creek Road, is to narrow to accommodate bicycles and the cars and overwidth hay trucks that would have to give them HB 1030's six-foot berth. Barber complained that HB 1030 makes no provision for "substandard width lanes," a phrase Barber chose carefully. Barber said that current law requires cyclists to ride "as close as practicable" to the right edge of the road. Among the exceptions to that stricture is a "substandard width lane" like Lower Spring Creek Road or Highway 34 through Madison, where cyclists are allowed to take the full lane to discourage passing. Barber said HB 1030 might be acceptable if it included some exception for drivers in such lanes and encouraged bicyclists to do what Barber said is standard practice for drivers of overwidth trucks and farm implements: pull over and let cars pass.

In response to Mr. Barber's concerns, Transportation Chairman Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell) plugged his own road-funding bill as the best solution: "If we had more money, we could make the shoulders a little wider." Committee members and the audience laughed—Senator Vehle has been pushing more road funding for years—and the committee then unanimously passed House Bill 1030 to the full Senate.

*   *   *

By the way, Senate Transportation member Rep. Alan Solano (R-32/Rapid City) mentioned during Friday's hearing that the safety concerns motivating HB 1030 are like those motivating the state's "move over" law for vehicles stopped along the side of the road. That's the rule that says if you see any vehicle pulled over with its hazard lights flashing on the Interstate, you need to get over in the passing lane. The law also applies on two-lane roads, but instead of moving over, the law requires that you slow down to 20 miles per hour below the speed limit. That rule applies to any stopped vehicle with yellow flashers; HB 1030 applies only to bicycles "proceeding." So if you see Rep. Deutsch standing beside his bike on the shoulder of Highway 20 on the way to Florence, you don't have to swerve left six feet, but if he has his winky-blinky light on, you have to slow down to 45.

1 comment

People use county roads to get to town to buy booze. People who do stupid things after drinking that booze then use county jails. Counties do not get to tax sales or alcohol to pay for those roads and jails. Towns do.

Why the Legislature so throttles the counties but not the towns escapes me. As the road funding bill has been pared down to reduce the funding counties get to fix their deteriorating roads and bridges, the Legislature is advancing Senate Bill 135, which would allow the towns to impose an additional sales tax for their needs.

The Legislature's willingness to heed town criers while ignoring destitute county commissions seems odd. By itself, however, SB 135 doesn't seem like a terrible idea. If towns have needs, they ought to be able to meet those needs. Local control, yadda yadda.

But then Pat Powers comes tooling along for the Koch Brothers to shout Oh my Mammon! SB 135 increases taxes $150 million! Aaaaaaaahhh!

Please. The press release Pat reads from Americans for Prosperity lives in the La-La Land in which its Koch-sipping serfs need to make it look like they are busy. "If every city in South Dakota participated, it would mean more than $150 million in new taxes." Sure. And if every city in South Dakota participated, that would mean every city in South Dakota apparently has unmet needs, and a majority of voters in every city in South Dakota agree that their city commissioners are making wise taxation decisions. That's how democracy works... but as we know, Americans for Prosperity has a problem with democracy. They thus must blow up local control as an evil new tax and stand in the way of local governments meeting local needs.

Americans for Prosperity—remember, they're not for the collective prosperity, just the prosperity of the 1%.

10 comments

The South Dakota Senate passed the latest nibble at women's reproductive rights yesterday, voting 29–5 for House Bill 1130. This measure makes it illegal for abortion providers to accept payment until after women have had a good hard think during South Dakota's minimum 72-hour waiting period.

South Dakota has only one abortion provider, and even proponents acknowledge that such prepayment is not standard practice. HB 1130 thus has little practical effect. But Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell (D-15/Sioux Falls) explains the moral effect of further insult to women:

I’m bothered by the underlying idea that women could possibly, that women take so lightly the idea of what they’re going to do when they have an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy that they might think to themselves – well, gee I was gonna decide to keep the pregnancy but I already wrote the check so ok let’s go. That really bothers me [Senator Angie Buhl O'Donnell, quoted in Jackelyn Severin, "Senators Pass Measure Restricting Payments for Abortion Procedures," SDPB Radio, 2015.02.26].

Senate Health and Human Services made a minor amendment to HB 1130, eliminating a line that would have prohibited abortion providers from accepting a commitment for payment. The bill must thus return to the House for concurrence.

57 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

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