I didn't expect today's blog cycle to be the Thoughtless Comments from South Dakota Republicans series, but the hits keep coming.

Facebook friends share comments made at CPAC by Rapid City-born, San Diego-based former Noem intern turned conservative spokesmodel Tomi Lahren, who, in response to the charge that the GOP is the party of old, rich, white males, calls Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren men:

So, I think we’ve gone through this: Old, rich, white males. I want to remind you, let’s look at the top three Democrats for 2016. You’ve got Hillary, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden? Old, rich, white, and if the pantsuit fits, male too? [Tomi Lahren, quoted in Tony Ortega, "CPAC Speaker Calls Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren 'Old, Rich, White Males'," Raw Story, 2015.02.28].

Such absurdity warrants no rebuttal. But warranting more attention is Lahren's pro-choce declaration:

See, women like Sandra Fluke will have you believe the only way to be pro-woman is to lobby for free birth control. But, sorry, hun, I’m a Republican, and I can take care of myself. And besides that, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want the government anywhere near my body or my health choices, because have any of you seen how Obamacare or ‘healthcare dot dud’ has been working out? [Lahren, in Ortega, 2015.02.28]

Lahren cites her South Dakota upbringing in her speech to boost her down-home cred, so she must stay in touch with South Dakota politics. She must know her Republican kin back home have passed all sorts of laws dismissing the notion that little ladies like her have the mental wherewithal to take care of themselves.

But CPAC and the conservative media don't pick speakers like Lahren for their rhetorical rigor or mental acuity.

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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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In another attempt to strip South Dakota women of their Constitutional right to control their bodies and seek abortions, Rep. Isaac Latterell (R-6/Tea) has recycled a bill from last year to conflate abortion doctors with ISIS. House Bill 1230 would make "beheading" (that's the term in the bill) a fetus a Class 1 felony. This bill scales back the scope and penalty of the horror-theater abortion legislation Rep. Latterell proposed last year, 2014's HB 1241, which made "dismemberment" a Class 2 felony and "decapitation" a Class B felony (Class B brings a life sentence; Class 1, 50 years; Class 2, 25 years). Rep. Latterell compared abortion to the animal cruelty felonized by the Legislature last year, called abortion "savage", then asked for House Health and Human Services to table his bill with the promise to bring a refined bill next Session.

And now he's back with another bill that will give him a chance to trot out his biased language and grandstand for the single-issue voters in his district. Expect him to tire House Health and Human Services today with his inflammatory and chilling language intended to mask the fact that Rep. Latterell is presuming to tell doctors how to practice.

I could advocate a ban on vaccines by talking about the horror of restraining a screaming, terrfied child while plunging a needle into her flesh and forcing into her blood a potentially deadly organism. I could advocate a ban on surgery by talking about masked men drugging women and then ripping and tearing their naked flesh. But I'd be showing off while ignoring responsible medical practice and basic human rights to autonomy.

Rep. Latterell, just back off. I'm really tired of having to defend my wife and my daughter from you. Isn't one woman enough? Must you keep inserting yourself into the private affairs of every woman in South Dakota?

Abortion is legal, and should be. Women have an unalienable right to control what takes place and what does not within their bodies. If a woman has another organism growing within her body, it is her call, not any legislator's, not any policeman's, not any judge's, as to whether she must continue to bear that organism.

Related Legislative Doctoring: Ken Santema mentions that the Senate prime sponsor of this bill, Sen. Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) is out of commission with a broken arm. Brock's mom Lana (R-2/Doland) said he's having surgery. Perhaps we should hoghouse HB 1230, declare an emergency, and pass a law telling the doctors what thread to use when they stitch Brock up tomorrow. Or maybe we should just ban them from interfering with what God clearly intended for Brock's arm.

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The South Dakota Legislature has before it a bill declaring that personhood begins at conception. House Bill 1212 adds fifteen words to our child abuse statutes:

For purposes of this section, a child conceived, but not born, is deemed a minor.

Conceived, but not born—you know what that means: abortion becomes child abuse. Taking the morning-after pill becomes child abuse. Mess with a fertilized egg (never mind implantation, which science says is when pregnancy starts; we're talking fundies like Hobby Lobby who say the magic moment is when sperm meets egg, if not earlier), and HB 1212 would bust you for a Class 3 felony.

HB 1212 is a total abortion ban in disguise. HB 1212 may also ban in vitro fertilization. Consider standard medical practice in making test-tube babies:

Any embryos that you do not use in your first IVF attempt can be frozen for later use. This will save you money if you undergo IVF a second or third time. If you do not want your leftover embryos, you may donate them to another infertile couple, or you and your partner can ask the clinic to destroy the embryos. Both you and your partner must agree before the clinic will destroy or donate your embryos ["Infertility and In Vitro Fertilization," WebMD, reviewed by Nivin Todd, M.D., 2015.01.18, downloaded 2015.02.13].

Freezing minor children sounds pretty cruel to me. Destroying minor children is most certainly abuse. Cuff those doctors and those heartless infertile parents!

Classifying embryos as minors opens the door to dragging any women who miscarries before a child abuse tribunal. South Dakota law requires doctors, nurses, and mental health professionals, among others, to report suspected child abuse. If any of those professionals encounter a woman who has had a miscarriage, and if they think the woman may have done something that may have caused that miscarriage, HB 1212 would interact with existing statute to compel those health care providers to break their professional confidence and report that woman as a potential child abuser.

House Judiciary was supposed to take up HB 1212 this week, but chairman Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) deferred it to next week, Wednesday, February 18, 10:00 a.m. CST, in Room 413, when it will jostle for attention on the agenda with the Benda-Bollen conflict-of-interest bills, a gun bill, a bill curtailing my ability to make a living doing my Mike Rounds impression, and Rep. Steve Hickey's bill dealing with cases of real child abuse. Let's help focus House Judiciary's attention: contact Chairman Mickelson, Vice-Chairman Mike Stevens (R-18/Yankton), and the other members of this committee over this long weekend (the Legislature doesn't reconvene until Tuesday) to tell them to kill this bill fast and stop trying to sneak abortion bans into South Dakota law.

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The Legislative power couple of Rapid City fringe conservatism, Senator Phil Jensen and freshwoman Rep. Lynne DiSanto, whose every move in Pierre ought to arouse the suspicion and scrutiny of all good liberals, have floated a bill I find I must support.

Senate Bill 77 is titled "An Act to allow nursing mothers to breastfeed in certain locations." Actually, it would permit moms to breastfeed their kids in darn near any location. SB 77 reads, in its glorious one-sentence simplicity, "Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are otherwise authorized to be present."

Football game, public library, Perkins, the sidewalk in front of Pat Powers's house, the front pew—if Mom feels like going out, and if baby's feeling noshy, Mom can feed that baby the way only she can.

Well... at least someone in Pierre supports raw milk.

I do have a question about the reach of this proposed law. As written, SB 77 sounds pretty absolute. "Notwithstanding" seems in one swoop to fell every possible legal restriction (though I skim through statute and find no legal restrictions on breastfeeding). "Public or private" seems to declare pretty much any location as the proper domain for moms to carry out that blissful natural function. "Otherwise authorized" seems to say that if you own a restaurant or a rifle range and a customer breaks out the homebrew for Junior, you can't say, "Excuse ma'am, your lactation is bothering other guests, I must ask you to leave;" try it, and your customer may have grounds to haul you to court for infringing on her legal right, enshrined in Senate Bill 77, to feed her child. No breastfeeding rooms, no segregation—Senate Bill 77 makes the right to breastfeed absolute.

...which is fine, right? Kids gotta eat. Moms gotta feed. And that's what breasts are for, right?

Unless someone can conceive of the exceptions to which this policy should be subject, Senate Bill 77 is the real pro-woman, pro-baby, pro-life legislation I've been waiting for, the sort of bill that may boost South Dakota's ranking for truly family-friendly policy... but I can't shake the feeling that Senator Jensen, Rep. DiSanto, and the mostly conservative caucus signed on as sponsors are up to something. Let moms do their thing, and keep your eye on Jensen and DiSanto.

P.S.: The only South Dakota statute I can find dealing explicitly with breast feeding is SDCL 16-13-10.4, which exempts breastfeeding mothers from jury duty. This statute also lets expecting parents and parents of newborns, up to six weeks, skip jury duty. The Legislature passed this law in 2012.

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I'm not ready to hit the top stories of the year cycle quite yet (six days left! who knows what could happen?!), but Bob Mercer is. South Dakota's last full-time statehouse reporter picks five top South Dakota political stories of 2014:

  1. Rounds wins Senate seat.
  2. Krebs wins Secretary of State.
  3. Democrats nominate women for governor and lieutenant.
  4. State retirement fund earns 18.9% net return.
  5. Voters increase minimum wage.

Mercer does not lay out criteria for "top political stories." Most of his choices seem to revolve around ongoing impact on South Dakota's politics and economy. Ousting the last Democrat from statewide office certainly has ongoing impact on the political landscape. So will changing our top election official: smarter and tougher Shantel Krebs can promote the Republican agenda of Democratic vote suppression much more aggressively than half-checked-out Jason Gant. Our recovering retirement fund promises future economic security, while our minimum-wage hike provides a little economic boost and economic justice right now. The minimum-wage hike also affirms the power of Democrats to promote their pro-working-class agenda through initiatives.

But Mercer's #3 seems the odd woman out. The Dems' executive office nominees, Susan Wismer and Susy Blake, are nice people. But their all-female candidacy is "historic" only in the driest, textbook sense of the word. Wismer and Blake didn't win. They didn't blaze new trails in campaign organizing, fundraising, or get-out-the-vote activities. They didn't capitalize on their womanliness to raise awareness of or change the conversation about women's issues in South Dakota. The Wismer-Blake ticket seemed to win nothing more than its own Trivia Crack™ South Dakota Edition entry, and even that achievement is twinned with failure: political gurus discussing the first all-gal ticket will inevitably mention that ticket was also the biggest loser, ceding the Governor's office to the incumbent by 45 points.

I welcome your critique of Mercer's list and your own lists below; stay tuned in the coming days for my own blog-based lists of big South Dakota news, based on your comments and my own criteria... once I've recovered from all those Christmas Swedish meatballs and pickles! Mmmm....

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Next week the South Dakota Board of Regents will discuss Dr. Joseph A. Hartman's review of the geology and geological engineering program at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The UND geology professor visited campus last April. His findings support the argument I find myself making all too often about South Dakota's education funding: money by itself does not guarantee better education, but sometimes you have to spend more money to meet basic needs.

Dr. Hartmann identified a number facilities upgrades that will require spending in the coming years:

  • GGE classroom and teaching facilities cannot support the 5% annual increases in undergraduate enrollment increases mandated by the Mines 2020 Strategic Vision and Plan.
  • GGE laboratory sections require "hands-on" training and there is little room for either larger lab sections or increased numbers of lab sections.
  • Mineral Industries (Ml) building requires renovation because of circuitry, HVAC, and asbestos.
  • New space for GGE is a top priority in Mines 2020 Capital Campaign fund-raising [Dr. Joseph H. Hartman, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Geology and Geological Engineering program review, 2014.08.24, p. 17].

If we want more scientists and engineers, the students we train to that end will need more classrooms and laboratories to develop the skills we crave.

Dr. Hartman also identified some equality issues that require some fiscal will:

One that resonated was access to female bathrooms on all floors in the GGE building. Because of course scheduling conflicts (back to back, as a simple example), women students are not able to visit a bathroom conveniently and thus be late for class. They considered this a Title IX concern.

Subsequent to my visit I learned that “The lack of women's bathrooms on the first and third floor of the building is well known to all women faculty, staff, and students who use the building and the latter two groups have made periodic requests to facilities and the administration to remedy it. The bathrooms were renovated several years ago but, inexplicably, the male restroom on the second floor was made co-ed, but no attempt to provide female restrooms on the other floors was made” (Maribeth Price, August 2014). Apparently, this is a failure of the School to address a long-standing problem despite faculty and student concerns and repeated requests [Hartman, 2014.08.28, p. 9].

Dr. Hartman also notices a lack of electronic journals and a lack of funding for trips to academic conferences.

Classrooms, laboratories, and bathrooms don't just bubble up from the ground like the lava our Hardrockers study. Professional geologists don't come from walking around the courtyard having Socratic dialogues. Fulfilling its mission requires spending more money. We'll find out this session whether our Legislature is willing to put its money where its mouth is, or whether it will continue to expect professors and students to find their own resources.

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Some trivia from the South Dakota Board of Regents placement outcomes report:

1. The racial group with the highest rate of placement in jobs or ongoing education in South Dakota: American Indians.

First-year South Dakota placement rates, 2012. Source: South Dakota Board of Regents, "Placement Outcomes of Regental Students," p. 9.

First-year South Dakota placement rates, by race, 2012. Source: South Dakota Board of Regents, "Placement Outcomes of Regental Students," Nov. 2014, p. 9.

Compare cautiously a sample of 82 Indians with a sample of 2,661 whites. But let's me optimistic: get more Indians to university, get them to graduate, and they'll put their skills to work in South Dakota as surely as the rest of the graduate population.

2. The sex with better in-state placement: women.

First-year South Dakota placement rates, 2012, by sex. Source: South Dakota Board of Regents, "Placement Outcomes of Regental Graduates," Nov. 2014, p. 9.

First-year South Dakota placement rates, 2012, by sex. Source: South Dakota Board of Regents, "Placement Outcomes of Regental Graduates," Nov. 2014, p. 9.

The Regental report does not clarify whether more women than men are actually going to work or grad school or whether this ten-point gap in placement indicates that more men leave the state for work than women.

3. The best campus for first-year in-state placement: Dakota State. The worst: School of Mines.

First-year South Dakota placement rates, by campus, 2012. Source: South Dakota Board of Regents, "Placement Outcomes of Regental Students," Nov. 2014, p. 9.

First-year South Dakota placement rates, by campus, 2012. Source: South Dakota Board of Regents, "Placement Outcomes of Regental Students," Nov. 2014, p. 9.

Of course DSU has a high in-state placement rate: it lives and breathes as the training school for Citibank and Premier Bankcard.

School of Mines advertises a 98% placement rate for its graduates. Mines graduates also fetch some of the best starting salaries in the country. A School of Mines placement brochure lists 119 employers who hired 2011–2012 Mines grads. Mines marks 21 of those employers as South Dakota employers. That supports the conclusion we might draw from the numbers above that encouraging students to go into science and engineering does not immediately translate into benefits for South Dakota's economy.

Update 2014.11.28 10:43 CST: School of Mines communications manager Fran LeFort responds to my inquiry about these states with this note:

It is worth noting a significant number of our graduates are hired by companies in the region and may still contribute economically to the state. Some of these companies are just outside the borders of South Dakota – Wyoming coal mines, North Dakota oil fields, Nucor in Norfolk, Neb., etc. [Fran LeFort, e-mail, 2014.11.26]

Note that every Regental institution may be able to make a similar claim. An analysis of regional placement on top of state placement might be interesting, but I have a feeling that telling legislators, "Hey, look how much our programs are boosting Minnesota's workforce!" won't rouse much cheering.

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