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%.

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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.

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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

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 South Dakota Legislature holds deep respect for the committee process... until it gets a chance to disrespect public education.

While the South Dakota House yesterday insisted on respecting the committee process and refused to resurrect House Bill 1223, the Common Core ban, from its committee failure, the South Dakota Senate said Committee, Schmommittee! dragged Senate Bill 189 back from its committee failure and passed it 23–12.

HB 1223 might at least have improved public education by getting Common Core off teachers' backs. SB 189 harms public education and the state budget by diverting tax dollars to private schools. The convoluted mechanics of the bill allow the state to say it's not writing a check to any religious school (which would be a problem): under SB 189, insurance companies give money to non-profits; those non-profits give money to lower-income families; those families give their money to private schools; the state says to the insurers, "How nice!" and knocks up to 90% of the insurers' private school scholarship contributions off their premium and annuity tax.

As educator/blogger Michael Larson says, SB 189 is a voucher sneak attack. He notes that SB 189 hurts public school districts by removing kids from their rosters money from their state funding without proportionately reducing those public schools' costs... which of course is what Governor Dennis Daugaard*, the GOP majority in Pierre, and the Christian crusaders who testified for SB 189 want to see happen.

SB 189 as several additional problems:

  1. SB 189 starts with scholarships for families who make 150% or less of the income threshold for free or reduced lunch the year before they enter the program. But it allows families to keep claiming that credit if their income exceeds that threshold. Consider: my family could easily have qualified for such a credit based on our low grad school/part-time income last year. Now that my wife has full-time professional employment, and if I gain similar full-time employment in the coming school year, we'll be far above that 150% threshold. We'll have no need of financial assistance to send our child to private school, but SB 189 would require the state to keep handing out that subsidy for three years.
  2. SB 189 caps creditable scholarships at four million dollars. "However," reads SB 189, "if in any fiscal year the total amount of tax credits claimed is equal to or greater than ninety percent of the maximum amount of tax credits allowed for that fiscal year, the maximum amount allowed for the following fiscal year shall increase by twenty-five percent." Wow! Pierre never increases school funding by 25% just because the schools claim more expenses. If we applied SB 189's funding mechanism to determining the per-student allocation, public schools could spend just 95% of the per-student allocation and trigger a 25% for the coming year. SB 189 is giving private schools a funding advantage that public schools never get.
  3. If insurance companies and the private schools play their cards right, that 25% growth rate would lead to SB 189 handing out $133 million in its first ten years and $1.24 billion in its next ten years.
  4. The insurance tax is projected to put $83.4 million in state coffers in FY2016. Those receipts have grown 5% over the last two years. Extrapolate that growth rate, and the insurance tax alone could support SB 189's private school subsidy's explosive through FY2034—seventeen years to wreak havoc on public school finance and the state budget.

If you believe in strong public schools, you vote Senate Bill 189 down. If you believe in separation of church an state, you vote this sneaky voucher plan down. If you believe in a sound state budget, you vote this plan down.

*Update 16:24 CST: To be clear, the Daugaard Administration did not testify in favor of SB 189. Other actions by the Daugaard Administration (Exhibit #1: 2012's HB 1234; Exhibit #2, ongoing neglect of K-12 funding...) demonstrate a lack of respect for public education, but last week, the Governor sent the Department of Education and the Department of Labor and Regulation to testify against SB 189. The proper read of that testimony is less likely a desire to defend public education and more likely a desire to oppose blasting a four-million-dollar hole in the budget.

26 comments

Dakota Rural Action does not like concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Big feedlots pose a greater risk to land, water, and air quality than other forms of agriculture.

Dakota Rural Action has managed to knock down two bills promoting CAFOs in the 2015 Legislature. House Bill 1173 threatened to make folks who appeal zoning decisions for CAFOs pay for their failed appeals; DRA got that bill hoghoused down to a mere clarification of existing statute. Senate Bill 127 would have weakened South Dakota's Family Farming Act by allowing corporations to own hog farms. DRA members called Pierre enough to get prime sponsor Senator Arthur Rusch (R-17/Vermillion) to pull the plug on his bill.

Now Dakota Rural Action is fighting what it calls the worst of this Session's CAFO bills. House Bill 1201 moves decisions on conditional-use permits from elected county officials to appointed boards of adjustment. It changes the vote threshold for approving conditional use permits from two-thirds to simple majority. Essentially, this bill makes it easier for the state and corporations to push more CAFOs into counties. It ignores the basic parliamentary rule that "suspending the rules," which we do when we allow a CAFO or any other development to break the normal building and environmental rules with a "conditional use," requires something larger than a simple majority vote.

House Local Government passed HB 1201 last Thursday 10–3, with Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland) briefly emerging from her GOP confusion and voting with Democratic Rep. Paula Hawks (D-9/Hartford) and Rep. Karen Soli (D-15/Sioux Falls) against the corporate CAFO agenda. DRA is now focused on educating members of the House, who have today and tomorrow to act on HB 1201 before the deadline to send bills to the opposite chamber.

Related Tweeting: Mike Henriksen makes a connection between HB 1201 and South Dakota's declining farm numbers:

Update 10:06 CST: Dakota Rural Action summarizes its opposition to HB 1201 in this open letter to legislators, which DRA invites you to sign:

What the bill really does is this: it takes decision-making power on conditional use permits out of the hands of elected officials and puts it in the hands of appointed boards of adjustment, where the only recourse for an appeal is to go straight to court. It then allows counties to lower the number of votes needed to approve conditional use permits from 4/5 to 3/5, even though all other decisions still require a 4/5 vote. And finally, the bill is the first step in codifying a conditional use site certification program, one which would completely cut out public participation in the siting, review, and approval of conditional uses even though these decisions can have huge impact on surrounding properties, farms, ranches, and businesses [Dakota Rural Action, open letter to South Dakota Legislature, February 2015].

20 comments

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