I guess Governor Daugaard is going to go full-tilt global-warming denialism on South Dakota's teacher shortage:

Instead of offering answers during an appearance on Argus Leader's "100 Eyes" program, the governor asked questions. He also questioned the state's culpability for South Dakota's low teacher salaries.

"Is there a shortage?" Daugaard said Monday. "Maybe in some areas. Is it driven by a salary differential, or is it driven by location, geography? What is it driven by?" [Patrick Anderson, "Teacher Shortage: Questions from Daugaard," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.01.20]

Is there a teacher shortage? Dakota Wesleyan University president Amy Novak thinks so:

With fewer teachers for students in South Dakota's rural communities, lawmakers and educators are developing a plan to encourage other staff members at those schools to get teaching degrees.

Amy Novak, president of Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, told The Daily Republic on Tuesday that she has been included in talks about legislation that would help paraprofessionals, such as teacher's assistants, already working in rural communities get a bachelor's degree in elementary or secondary education. Novak said Dakota Wesleyan would like to be involved in any effort to revitalize the state's rural communities [Chris Mueller, "Local College Joins Fight Against Teacher Shortage," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.01.20].

So does freshman District 14 Rep. Tom Holmes:

The legislation, prepared by State Rep. Tom Holmes, R-Sioux Falls, is still in its early stages. But, essentially, it would provide tuition assistance to those paraprofessionals who agree to teach for at least five years in a rural community.

The legislation comes as a response to a shortage of teachers in South Dakota, which the numbers indicate is likely to get worse in the near future [Mueller, 2015.01.20].

So does District 20 Rep. Tona Rozum:

State Rep. Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell, said she has visited schools in her district, which includes Davison, Aurora and Jerauld counties, and has seen the teacher shortage firsthand.

"There is a shortage," Rozum said. "They need help to get teachers into the system" [Mueller, 2015.01.20].

And so does the Mitchell Daily Republic, whose editor at no point requires Mueller to qualify "teacher shortage" with "alleged" or "purported" or anything else that would support our Governor's feigned agnosticism.

South Dakota is short on teachers. We're not paying them enough to compensate for two generations of gubernatorial and legislative disrespect. We're not paying them enough to compete with other states and other professional opportunities. The Governor may want to ignore that reality, but evidently even members of his own party cannot sustain that denialism. Let's hope Holmes and Rozum can propose honest solutions to this very real problem.

34 comments

Governor Dennis Daugaard has submitted his juvenile justice reform bill, and the Legislature has quickly jumped on board. Senate Bill 73 has 31 Senate sponsors and 61 House sponsors. When a bill has 92 sponsors out of 105 members, isn't there a mercy rule that says the bill wins and calls the game?

It's easier to list who's not sponsoring SB 73:

Senate:

  • Phil Jensen (R-32/Rapid City)
  • Betty Olson (R-28/Prairie City)
  • David Omdahl (R-11/Sioux Falls)
  • Bill Van Gerpen (R-19/Tyndall)

House:

  • Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton)
  • Shawn Bordeaux (D-26A/Mission)
  • Blaine Campbell (R-35/Rapid City)
  • Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen)
  • Kevin Killer (D-27/Pine Ridge)
  • Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea)
  • Sam Marty (R-28B/Prairie City)
  • Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs)
  • James Schaefer (R-26B/Kennebec)

Non-sponsorship may mean nothing. It may mean these eleven Republicans and two Democrats got back from lunch later than everyone else the afternoon Daugaard's chief of staff went around rounding up signatures.

But I can't help noticing the ideological bent. Most of the Republicans on this list are from the arch-conservative Mugwump camp, the folks perhaps most inclined to buck the Governor for going liberal... which Todd Epp says the Governor appears to be doing with this reform package. As usual, they don't have the numbers or the people skills to organize an effective resistance to something the boss wants. But maybe we'll hear some fun speeches in opposition from this core group of conservatives.

11 comments

Members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee have brought forward two bills that appear to target the gross conflicts of interest in South Dakota's EB-5 visa investment program. GOAC only glancingly acknowledged these violations of state law and policy and blamed what little it acknowledged on the dead Richard Benda while ignoring the violations committed by the very much alive and enriched EB-5 czar Joop Bollen.

One bill would make things better. One bill would make things worse. Guess which one GOAC members appear to prefer?

House Bill 1023 was the first Benda-Bollen bill submitted by Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) and six other 2014 GOAC members who returned to Pierre this session. It amends SDCL 5-18A-17 to extend an existing conflict-of-interest prohibition on state contracts (which already bans the kind of goofy contract Bollen signed with himself in January 2008) to cover state officials and employees for one year after they leave office (which would have banned Richard Benda's golden parachute with Bollen's state-contracted EB-5 management company SDRC Inc.). HB 1023 is short, simple, and sensible.

Rep. Mickelson threw his second Benda-Bollen bill, House Bill 1064, into the hopper just today. It has the same seven sponsors, plus Senator Deb Peters (R-9/Hartford). HB 1064 repeals the statute that HB 1023 amends, indicating this later Benda-Bollen bill is meant to replace the first. HB 1064 amends and expands SDCL 3-16 to ban self-dealing contracts as well as define exactly what kinds of "interests" the state will consider conflicts.

But check out the power Section 5 gives to the Governor and other executives to make exceptions:

A governing body may authorize an officer or employee whose responsibilities include approving, reviewing, or negotiating a contract on behalf of a state agency or supervising any employee who has these responsibilities to be a party to or derive direct benefits from a contract if:

  1. The governing body has reviewed the essential terms of the transaction or contract and the state officer's or employee's role in the contract or transaction; and
  2. The transaction and the terms of the contract are fair, reasonable, not contrary to the public interest, and fully disclosed in writing to the governing body.

The authorization, which may not be unreasonably withheld by the governing body, shall be in writing. The governing body may adopt a written plan to manage any perceived, potential, or real conflicts of interest associated with the state officer's or employee's role in a contract or transaction.

Any authorization given pursuant to this section is a public record. Each authorization shall be filed with the commissioner of the Bureau of Human Resources, who shall compile the authorizations and present them annually for review by the Government Operations and Audit Committee [House Bill 1064, Section 5, as published 2015.01.20].

House Bill 1064 defines conflicts of interest, extends the prohibitions against them, then grants the Governor, the Attorney General, and other Pierre potentates the power to pish-posh those prohibitions.

As an anti-bonus, Section 3 says the one-year post-employment extension only applies to contracts that would benefit the state official or employee in question to the tune of $100K or more. In other words, use your state job to write yourself a private contract that kicks in after you leave Pierre, and as long as you limit your pay to $99,999.99, you're in the clear.

Making sure we look out for our friends, Section 4 further dilutes the conflict-of-interest prohibitions by exempting state officers and employees whose ownership interest in a contracting entity is only 5% or less and by narrowing the definition of "direct benefit":

A state officer or employee does not derive a direct benefit from a contract based solely on the value associated with the officer's or employee's investments or holdings, or the investments or holdings of other adults with whom the state officer or employee lives and commingles assets, in an entity that is a party to the contract provided the officer or employee does not meet the requirement contained in subdivision (1) of this section [HB 1064, Section 4].

Call this the Skjonsberg Provision: last October, Lee Fang of The Nation discovered that Rob Skjonsberg, manager of the Rounds for Senate campaign, had cast a vote on the state Board of Economic Development to invest state dollars in Novita LLC, a company in which his investment company Lake Sharpe Investments had an interest. Skjonsberg said there was only a perception of conflict of interest, and state officials backed him up, saying Skjonsberg did not have a direct interest in Novita LLC. But the above passage of HB 1064 seems crafted to make explicit the fact that no, really, high rollers on the Board of Economic Development can keep voting money to projects in their indirect portfolios.

Both bills have been referred to ouse Judiciary, which Rep. Mickelson chairs. We'll see if he uses his position there to withdraw the simpler, stricter HB 1023 and promote the diluted, exemption-riddled HB 1064.

53 comments

Libertarian blogger Ken Santema finds a new glitch in the petition reforms proposed by the state Board of Elections. He says Senate Bill 69, which moves the primary petition circulation period up one month to December 1 to the last Tuesday in February, violates the constitution by also setting the deadline for filing petitions to form a new party on that last Tuesday in February.

For details, Santema turns to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News:

These state officials probably don’t remember that in 1984, South Dakota’s Attorney General and Secretary of State admitted that a February petition deadline for a newly-qualifying party is unconstitutional, and the legislature then moved that deadline to April. This admission was made after the South Dakota Libertarian Party sued the Secretary of State. That case is reported at 579 F Supp 735 (1984). However, the only decision the judge had to make in that case was that the wording on the party petition was unconstitutionally restrictive. The judge didn’t need to adjudicate the part of the case that challenged the February deadline, because the state admitted it was too early [Richard Winger, "South Dakota Bill Moves Deadline for Newly-Qualifying Party Petition from March to February," Ballot Access News, 2015.01.20].

We bumped that deadline back from last Tuesday in April to last Tuesday in March in 2007.

Whether case law actually prohibits the earlier February deadline for party-formation petitions, Senate Bill 69 and the other bills in the petition reform package do citizens' opportunity to get themselves and their parties on the ballot. Mr. Santema says that disadvantage is enough to sink the whole reform package in his book:

I still have more research to do on this topic. But right now it appears the burden placed on ballot access in SB 69 overwhelms any good intentions of the bill. Yes, the nominating petition procedures in South Dakota need to be overhauled. However at this time it appears the wrong path is being taken. As a short-term fix maybe amending the bill to remove the new restrictions on newly-qualifying parties would be appropriate. But it might be time to realize that true reform may not be possible during the 2015 legislative session. Instead perhaps a workgroup or summer study should be formed to take a deep look at election law in SD and in other states for a comparison. Then come to the 2016 legislature with a comprehensive solution that would fix the problems experienced in the 2014 election while concurrently ensuring the first and fourteenth amendment protections are properly observed [Ken Santema, "Ballot Access Issues with SB 69," SoDakLiberty, 2015.01.20].

If we need petition reform, perhaps this question of ballot access makes my five amendments, including moving the deadline to the first Tuesday of March, all the more essential to passing the current package of legislation. We can't move the petition deadline back to April, since federal law demands we have absentee ballots ready for military voters 45 days before the primary. We could adopt the Lanny Stricherz plan to move the primary into summer so we could circulate petitions in May.

But if we can't move dates, then the best we may be able to do is make petitions electronic (complete with official circulators' tablet apps and online signatures!) so that we can submit petitions the day before ballot printing and instantly check signatures against the voter registration database. (Given that Secretary Krebs pulled out the wires on the campaign finance reporting system this morning, now might not be the time to suggest a whole new electronic form submission system... but I'm willing to take my chances! iPetitions, Secretary Krebs! What do you say?)

The Senate Local Government Committee hears Senate Bill 68 tomorrow, Wednesday, at 7:45 a.m. Central. Senate State Affairs takes up the rest of the petition reform package, SB 67 and the troubling SB 69 shortly afterwards, at 10:00 a.m.

7 comments

From what alternative-universe dystopia is Rep. Isaac Latterell blogging? The Tea (party and town) Republican prefaces his Monday commentary on proposals to raise taxes to fix South Dakota roads with two servings of red herring:

But as the Federal Reserve continuously prints money, and Obama’s draconian policies prohibit more U.S. oil production, costs to build and repair roads have been going up [Rep. Isaac Latterell, "South Dakota's 90th Legislative Session Begins," blog post, 2015.01.19].

Let's get literal: yes, the government prints money. 85% of the Fiscal Year 2015 order for 7.2 billion notes valued at $188.7 billion is ordered to replace destroyed currency. That's just Uncle Sam doing the proper business of government. Isaac, if you're worried about folks printing bogus money, tell your conservative friends to stop playing with Bitcoins (oh, never mind: market already solving).

The second serving about oil production sounds like the GOP fabrication of some "war on energy." Maybe Rep. Latterell thinks "draconian" means "fantastical, not real, like dragons": as I must tediously remind the Representative from Tea, under the Obama Adminstration, U.S. monthly oil production rebounded from a 23-year decline and grew by October 2014 to 53% higher than the highest it ever was under President George W. Bush (May 2002).

But Rep. Latterell appears to dislike discussions of reality at the national or local level. Rather than focusing his commentary on the realities of the conditions of roads and other public services that shape South Dakota's Legislative priorities, Rep. Latterell wants to frame everything in terms of whatever right-wing podcast-rot he's listening to on the earbuds he shares with Senator Haggar:

...[T]he reason we have these discussions at all is because the Federal Government and Federal Reserve are out of control, far beyond their intended authority. With the Fed printing money (which devalues your dollar and causes inflation), and burdensome taxes and regulation increasing the costs of everything, now is the time to pass amendments to the Constitution using Article V which will return the power to you locally [Latterell, 2015.01.19].

Rep. Latterell amplifies his indigestion about printing money by citing the ever-present bogeyman of inflation. I understand that when folks like Latterell yell about printing money, they're really yelling about economic stimulus and deficit spending. Under the last six years of stimulus and deficit spending, inflation has averaged 1.6%. That's the lowest six-year average we've seen since 1966. Right now, the Fed's "printing money" (with or without quote marks) is not causing inflation, or at worst, it's causing darned little.

(As for this Article V tangent—that's the right-wing plot to get just enough conservatives in just enough state legislatures to convene a Constitutional Convention. It won't pave a single road or pay a single teacher in South Dakota, but it will likely scrap the Constitution as we know it. But that's a tangent about Isaac's preference for fantasy-football politics over representing the practical interests of his South Dakota constituents, a whole blog post, if not an entire blog, of its own.)

But no, really, Rep. Latterell insists in an earlier post, inflation and disaster are coming!

The Governor announced in his budget address that sales tax revenues came in below estimates, signs that the Fed’s money printing and phony stimulus bubble is showing signs of bursting. This would be the largest tax increase in South Dakota history, at a time when our national debt, inflation, and economic situation have gotten even more dangerous and I am predicting will see another severe correction in 2015 [Rep. Isaac Latterell, "Representative Latterell Joins Craig Dewey on The Facts Sunday," blog post, 2015.01.04].

Rep. Latterell, you've been reading Rep. Rev. Hickey's secret online fanfic novel, The Long Economic Winter, haven't you?

I get what's happening here. Reality is kicking the crap out of conservatives' worldview. The President's approval rating is rising (not as much as il production was, but hey, you don't get miracles). When the hyperinflation monster fails to jump out at us from around the corner, conservative abstractionists like Rep. Latterell must stoke out fears that the monster is still just around the next corner. When the world doesn't blow up, they have to keep telling us the world is going to blow up.

And when national talk radio and blogs don't tell him what to think about real South Dakota issues like fixing roads and bridges, Rep. Latterell has to contort a real pressing local problem into karaoke speeches about right-wing fantasies. District 6, is Rep. Latterell's detachment from reality really what you voted for?

p.s.: Then again, maybe gasoline prices will bounce back, to $5 a gallon. I'll bet an Article V Convention will help us invent fusion cars!

22 comments

Senate Bill 55 is this year's revision of the current budget. As they do each year, legislators will use SB 55 to amend the current budget to reflect changes in revenues and expenses that have since accrued since legislators guessed ten months ago how much it would cost to run the state.

Legislators didn't guess too badly last year. Out of general fund expenditures of $1.392 billion approved last March, Senate Bill 55 cuts just $9.4 million, or 0.67%. Guess your household budget to within 1%, and you're doing pretty well.

Downward revisions in education make up the bulk of the general fund savings. The vo-techs saw 225 fewer students enroll than the budget anticipated, resulting in $749,054 less expense than budgeted. K-12 fall enrollment was 354 students lower than budget, resulting in $1.69 million less in state aid. But the big difference is $6.61 million more in local revenue than the state budget expected. Add in a few other details, keep a little cushion for other unpredictables, and SB 55 takes $7.4 million out of education column of the state general fund.

The Bureau of Finance and Management told the Joint Appropriations Committee last week that revenues came in $10.7 million lower than expected for this fiscal year. However, by cashing out a $16 million Medicaid reserve fund and the ACA-obsoleted risk pool of $2.4 million, plus other adjustments, the FY2015 budget still comes out ahead $14.4 million. In other words, even if all the kids we expected had enrolled in the vo-techs and the public schools, and even if the locals hadn't overperformed on generating school revenue, we'd have still had plenty of money to cover our costs for this fiscal year.

Governor Dennis Daugaard once said he was "committed to the principle of 'first dollar and last dollar' for funding our schools." Well, here we have 14.4 million last dollars. Are we spending them on education?

The dual-credit program, which lets high school kids take college classes for credit toward graduation and toward their college transcripts for cheap is getting $577,500, to pay for many more students wisely participating (taking 5,500 more dual-credit courses than anticipated—good job, kids!). SB 55 sprinkles about $160K around the various campuses, plus 20 new full-time job units at USD. But the big one-time dollars we have at the end of this fiscal year are being directed elsewhere (per page 30 of BFM's January 14 presentation:

Emergency and Disaster Fund (SB 39) $7,994,449
Provider Direct Care Workforce Funding $4,125,000
Captive Insurance for Property and Casualty $4,000,000
Captive Insurance for Authorities $2,000,000
Sanford Underground Lab Ross Shaft Upgrades $3,950,000
SD Conservation Fund for Wildlife Habitat $1,500,000
Jobs For America’s Graduates Start-up Funding $925,000
River Flow Study $500,000
Tax Refunds for Elderly and Disabled $450,000
Rural Healthcare Recruitment Assistance (HB 1060) $381,766
Rural Healthcare Facility Recruitment Assistance (HB1057) $302,500
Total FY2015 Emergency Special Appropriations $26,128,715

Cleaning up disasters, recruiting health care workers, insuring state buildings, studying the Sioux River, giving old folks and the disabled a little tax break—all decent things to do... but none of them directing "last dollars" to improve our public schools.

Senate Bill 55 goes first to Senate Appropriations, which has yet to fix a date for that discussion. Perhaps amidst the recitation of dollar figures, we'll hear one of two legislators ask why we don't see more neat new ideas to boost our schools with those last dollars.

20 comments

When Bob Mercer calls something a "must-read," I usually believe him. But this time, when he urgently directs us to read Rep. Jacqueline Sly's (R-33/Rapid City) "wise words" on the challenges of funding education, he wastes my time. The House Education chair offers thirty sentences of no useful informational content and one sentence of unsupported blame. Here's the only sentence that matters:

In the past, actions to address the fiscal situation of the district have been delayed by the school board, administration, staff and the community because tough decisions have been derailed by emotional pleas [Rep. Jacqueline Sly, "Many Responsible for Schools' Budget Woes," Raid City Journal, 2015.01.17].

The rest of the essay is a vague meander through admin-speak about leaders proposing plans and irresponsible "public, media and staff" asking questions and attacking the leader instead of getting on board and being part of the solution. Rep. Sly uses no names, gives no examples, does nothing to tie the blame she wants to level on everyone but herself and her Legislative colleagues to any specific leader, any specific plan, any specific funding amounts, or any specific public discussions that have turned into tar-and-feather sessions. Rep. Sly simply fabricates a world that makes her feel better for serving a Governor who sets budget parameters in which the teacher shortage gets worse and school boards struggle to meet their basic needs.

Rep. Sly's vague rhetoric aligns with the standard South Dakota Republican blame deflection in its war on public education. Republicans pretend that 2012's House Bill 1234 was a good plan for education, that we mean and selfish teachers destroyed that plan by referring it to a public vote and never proposed a viable plan of our own, and that the Governor and the Republican Legislature are thus excused from making any further effort to raise teacher salaries and save our public schools. Blame teachers, blame the schools, and let them sink.

Instead of sly insults, I eagerly await real wise words on education from our Legislature this session.

132 comments

Republicans most likely went looking for a constitutional excuse to can Kathy Tyler because of her outspoken criticism of the EB-5 scandal brought to us by the Rounds-Daugaard regime. But Republicans probably also don't like the former Milbank legislator's criticism of  the current administration's only noteworthy education initiative, the Build Dakota Scholarship for vo-tech students:

Why should we as a state fund a student’s entire post-secondary education so that he or she can get a job for a private company? Yes, there is the three year, stay in South Dakota caveat, but is it a state’s job to train workers for private companies? I don’t think so. We don’t pay to train state employees and we certainly don’t offer scholarship programs to them. And I won’t even start on the teacher shortage [Kathy Tyler, "Build Dakota Scholarship," Kathy's Corner, 2015.01.05].

Tyler raises a good question for our legislators to debate: is this subsidy for workforce training really within the proper role of state government. The Build Dakota Scholarship serves to support the low-wage system that is the root cause of the workforce problem. It targets education that does not offer the highest chances for full-time employment. As Tyler suggests, it seems a bit drop-in-the-buckety compared to other pressing education and workforce needs in the state.

Tyler also catches a whiff of partisan selectivity in Republican support for this scholarship plan:

The Build Dakota Scholarship applies to certain programs at certain technical institutions. These programs train students in high-need workforce areas. There will be 300 full ride scholarships for five years and then 50 per year. The full ride scholarship is open to resident and non-resident students. I have to smile at that. Last year, I sponsored a bill to allow out-of-state students who attend South Dakota high schools to be eligible for the $1000 per year Opportunity Scholarship given to top high school seniors. It didn’t pass. It must have been the letter behind my name [Tyler, 2015.01.15].

Tyler refers to her 2014 House Bill 1078. This partial scholarship would have had to have recruited several hundred high-achieving non-resident students to cost as much as the full-ride Build Dakota Scholarship. Tyler pushed her bill through three votes before the full Senate finally killed it. Every vote against the bill was Republican.

Reaching for my lemonade squeezer, I notice that, in this blog post written before session started, Tyler noted that she would have to stay mum on political issues once she took her position as a state employee. The good side, then, of Speaker Wink kicking Tyler out of the House Dems' caucus secretary job is that we can hear more of her observations and analysis on Legislative matters like the Build Dakota Scholarship. Keep speaking up, Kathy!

39 comments

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