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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

February 1, 2018

Capital Journal, Pierre, Jan. 29

The legislature needs to pass Senate Bill 84

There is a bill of momentous import to South Dakota citizens currently making its way through the state legislature.

It’s called Senate Bill 84 and it aims to change a few things in the state’s public records law. First and foremost, the bill will ban governments in the state from entering into secret legal settlements with third parties.

For those unfamiliar with current state law, there exists a broad exemption that allows the parties to a lawsuit to keep out of court settlement terms secret provided they all agree to do so. Now, this makes perfect sense in the private sector. Confidential settlements can help streamline the legal process and the public doesn’t have a right to know what two private parties agree to behind closed doors.

The problem is that state law doesn’t bar public entities i.e. city governments from using this particular exemption to hide their mistakes. You see when a city, or really any government for that matter, is sued, it’s usually because someone thinks the city screwed up. And if the city admits to making a mistake, as often as not, they pay a financial penalty for it.

If there are two things local governments shouldn’t be allowed to keep from their constituents, it’s a mistake and what they spent taxpayer money on. In South Dakota, however, that’s exactly what’s been allowed to happen.

The people of Fort Pierre had a brush with this early last summer when the city council voted to enter into secret settlement to end a lawsuit over its handling of the Riverwalk Landing project. The city’s taxpayers don’t know what the city agreed to or how much the city agreed to pay to end the lawsuit and that’s just wrong.

Hopefully, Senate Bill 84 will make it to the Governor’s desk. To help it along, give your legislators call or shoot them an email telling them to vote for the bill.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Jan. 25

Lake, infrastructure should top ’18 priorities

It’s time to prioritize Mitchell’s needs.

Lake Mitchell and many aspects of our city’s infrastructure are in a state of despair. This year is the time to make significant progress in both areas.

As January winds down and City Council members continue considering what they hope to accomplish in 2018, it’s our great hope we get some resolve this year on how to improve algae-filled Lake Mitchell. We also hope to hear a plan to significantly improve the city’s infrastructure, such as the major pothole-filled thoroughfares and the aging water and sewer system.

In recent years, city leaders chose to bring new features to Mitchell — with the addition of the second sheet of ice at the Mitchell Activities Center, an indoor pool that was eventually approved through a city-wide vote and an upgraded Corn Palace with new, LED, light-up domes.

And we’re proud of those additions. Each of those projects has made the city a more attractive community for tourists, visitors or people considering calling Mitchell their home.

We’ve also seen the addition of the Sixth Avenue plaza, veterans park and the beginning phase of a Burr Street renovation. Again, we’re happy to see all those areas of improvement, but those projects pushed the lake and infrastructure improvements to the back burner.

We waited months for results of a costly study on the lake to give us options on how to fix Lake Mitchell, only to have a good portion of the City Council question the findings. We don’t know exactly how or why, but the lake actually grew greener in 2017 than the previous year.

It’s time, we believe, for the council to step forward and decide on a concrete plan. Is one of the study’s options the right route? Is draining the lake a better route? Mitchell leaders should realize this year that having a clean, desirable lake is a need for the city — and that it’s time to pick a solution.

In the same vein, we’re hopeful City Council members focus on improvements to our largest roads and fixing water mains as infrastructure needs grow. We’re glad to see Sanborn Boulevard get its much-needed attention. But following multiple breaks this week in a water main in eastern Mitchell, we hope council members will push to upgrade what seems to be deteriorating pipes. Who knows where the next major water main problem will occur?

So as our elected leaders ponder what’s best for our city, we hope 2018 brings improvements to the not-so-glamorous projects.

Sure, plazas, parks and pools help make us a thriving city. But a clean lake and running water are absolutely necessities.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Feb. 1

Tougher texting while driving penalties needed

The Legislature is about to consider a bill to require what 44 other states already do — make texting while driving a primary offense. Now — like with the seat belt law — it is a secondary offense, meaning a law enforcement officer can’t stop a driver just for texting, which is an everyday occurrence in Rapid City and nationwide.

The current law was approved in the 2014 session after a lengthy debate about the difficulties of enforcing it and whether it was fair to single out texting while driving since it is not unusual to also see drivers eating, grooming or putting on makeup, or serving as a car seat for their dog while behind the wheel. The current fine for texting while driving is $100.

In the past four years, the reach of digital social media has grown considerably as well as Americans’ love affair with their phones, which seem to have a firm hold on more people every day — even while they are driving a vehicle that weighs three or more tons.

It is showing up in traffic statistics, as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine people are killed and more than 1,000 injured every day in crashes involving distracted drivers. In 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) reported that 3,450 people died as a result of distracted driving, which was 9 percent of all fatal crashes. Teenagers were the most likely to be distracted in a fatal crash. Drunken-driving crashes, meanwhile, took 10,497 lives in 2016.

And while distracted driving takes into account a number of circumstances, experts point out that cellphone use is clearly the number one culprit. According to the NHTSA, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones while driving during daylight hours.

It is becoming more clear every day that texting while driving or looking at social media sites or videos or pictures is becoming a bigger threat to public safety since it endangers the driver, other drivers, passengers, bicyclists and pedestrians. There is no doubt that drivers who text engage in risky behavior.

Distracted driving also can have other serious consequences for the driver. In November, a U.S. District Court judge in Rapid City sentenced a 27-year-old woman to 37 months in prison for her role in an accident that killed one and maimed two others. She was looking at Facebook while traveling on U.S. Highway 18 and plowed into another vehicle. In announcing the sentence, Chief Judge Jeffrey Viken called distracted driving an “enormous risk in modern society.”

The current bill, HB 1230, reflects those concerns. It would make texting while driving a class two misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500, which should be enough to get the attention of most drivers.

At the same, however, it is less costly than a funeral or serving a prison term for causing the death of an innocent person.

The Legislature needs to get up to speed on this public safety issue and send the message that texting while driving is a crime. If 44 other states can do it, so can South Dakota.

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