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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

February 4, 2019

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Jan. 28

Time for legislators to stop wasting our time

What do South Dakotans want from our legislators in Pierre?

Is it that they should hit the ground running at the start of our brief legislative session to tackle issues that most affect their constituents’ pocketbooks and basic well-being?

As the clock ticks away on the 40 days allotted to make laws that can improve the lives of all South Dakotans, do we expect lawmakers will finally buckle down and tackle the challenge of closing gaps in mental health care access? Of crafting effective criminal justice reform? Of inoculating our citizens against a raging opioid and meth epidemic?

Do we need them to put their noses to the grindstone to address a broken health care system on our reservations that, instead of healing its patients, leaves them sicker and worse off?

Do we hope that they roll up their sleeves and plunge into rescuing our parents and grandparents from the crisis of a failing nursing home network brought low by stingy Medicaid reimbursement rates?

Is that what we expect from our elected representatives in Pierre’s House and Senate chambers?

If so, judging by the most visible debates undertaken in the first weeks of the current legislative session, South Dakotans are not being properly represented.

What we’ve seen instead is bluster and posture from the majority party on motions that do little to make the lives of our citizens less fraught.

Tell the federal government to Build That Wall!

Tell our senators in D.C. “Well done!” on their lockstep party-line confirmation votes for newly minted United States Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Tell doctors word for word what they have to say to their abortion-seeking patients without regard for medical utility.

Tell the South Dakota High School Activities Association that they can take their carefully researched policy for transgender athletes and stuff it.

Thankfully, for the economic good of the state, that latest tilt at transgender windmills was scuttled early.

But currently chewing up time on the legislative clock is yet another run at eliminating the permit process for carrying a concealed firearm in South Dakota.

Several Republican state lawmakers are trotting this chestnut out again after two successive years of it failing to become law. New governor Kristi Noem telegraphed support for such a bill during her campaign, unlike her predecessor.

But what base motivation underlies the push to erase safeguards that are less onerous than those that keep people who shouldn’t be behind the wheel from slipping into the driver’s seat?

Open carry is already legal. Concealed carry is legal with a permit. Have South Dakotans been clamoring for the ability to pack heat under their winter coat without the intolerable inconvenience of filling out paperwork at their county sheriff’s office and paying a token $10 fee?

The answer is no.

In separate polls taken in 2017 and 2018 to determine statewide support for similar bills during those legislative sessions, SurveyUSA found that just under 90 percent of South Dakotans supported permits that require background checks and a fee for carrying a concealed firearm. Those polled included Republicans, Democrats and independents, gun owners and non-gun owners, parents and non-parents.

Nonetheless, these legislators persist.

Instead of answering an urgent practical need shared by state citizens, they aim to join the ranks of other “constitutional carry” activists in further eroding regulations on owning and carrying firearms.

On its face, their argument sounds plausible: the U.S. Supreme Court has found that Second Amendment constitutional protections extend to individuals, not only to “well-regulated militias.”

But our eyes need only drift up from the Second Amendment to the First to remind us that constitutional rights aren’t absolute.

There are numerous exceptions to the First Amendment right to free speech, among them libel, slander, lying under oath, fraud, child pornography, and speech that is likely to incite imminent lawless action. Crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater is excluded. We also advise not joking about bombs when you’re inside an airport.

Like 90 percent of South Dakota voters, state law enforcement objects to permitless concealed carry. The South Dakota State’s Attorneys Association and the South Dakota Sheriff’s Association have also publicly opposed the bill.

After sailing through both Senate committee and a full Senate vote, SB 47 is on its way to the state House of Representatives.

We ask elected officials there, on behalf of all South Dakotans, to give this bill the “deferred to the 41st legislative day” treatment.

We ask them to turn instead to swift and decisive action that will improve access to mental health care, address the growing nursing home crisis, and grapple with opioid and methamphetamine addiction and related crime.

We appeal to the supermajority party’s self-image of fiscal responsibility and conservative stewardship of taxpayer dollars, to their boldly stated mission of cutting government waste and inefficiency.

The clock is ticking. Stop wasting our time.

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Rapid City Journal, Jan. 31

Prohibit secrecy where taxpayer money involved

t was a messy lawsuit. Things happened and bad decisions got made. Not your finest hour. A confidential settlement can make it go away quietly, and why not? It’s your money. It’s nobody else’s business.

But what if it was your money and somebody else decided to settle confidentially in order to protect their reputation? And now they won’t disclose the price you paid or how they arrived at the amount. They won’t even say who made the mistake or whether malice was involved.

And that’s what happens when a city, county or school board gets sued and quietly settles without disclosing the details to taxpayers.

South Dakota is one of only a few states where the law allows government boards to pretend taxpayer money is truly lawmaker money. It’s time the Legislature set them straight by prohibiting confidential settlements involving government bodies. Exceptions must be allowed to protect victims, but boards should not be allowed to protect themselves without judicial review.

Senate Bill 59, advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday, would bar government entities from entering into secret settlements. It would also allow judicial discretion and exceptions to keep the names of crime victims confidential.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the bill was opposed by lobbyists representing bankers, retailers, insurers and the South Dakota Trial Lawyers Association, who argued it would lead to increased litigation costs.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Art Rusch, a Republican from Vermillion and a retired judge, argued the public’s right to know trumps any theoretical additional cost of litigation.

“It’s my feeling the taxpayer has a right to know where their tax money is going,” he said.

Why is this even a question? It’s taxpayer money. Of course they have a right to know. And if there’s any question about undue harm to a victim or related individual, only a judge should be able to restrict those details.

What funding entity — in this case taxpayers — allows an employee — in this case elected officials — to decide whether or not to provide an explanation about matters of money? How can employers — in this case voters — make responsible decisions about whether to retain their employees?

Hey boss, if you don’t ask questions about this, I can shave a few bucks off your bill. It’s a fool’s offer. No employer would accept it.

And yet this isn’t the first time Rusch has proposed this fix. His most recent effort found success in the Senate but failed in the House.

This time, Gov. Kristi Noem has indicated support for Rusch’s bill, saying she believes in transparency in government.

The South Dakota Supreme Court has also weighed in on the matter, ruling in 2017 that the city of Sioux Falls had no right to withhold information surrounding repairs to the Denny Sanford Premier Center.

It’s time for legislators to affirm that they also support the rights of taxpayers. Nobody else should be forced to require the courts to uphold their right to know about matters involving their own money. It’s that simple.

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Madison Daily Leader, Madison, Jan. 28

Lawmakers should ban confidential settlements

On Tuesday, the South Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee will consider a bill that would bar government officials from negotiating confidential settlements.

The settlement agreement may involve a claim for monetary damages or equitable relief, either by the government entity or by the other party. A similar bill was introduced last year and did not pass, but this year’s bill has been modified to improve its chances of passage.

Two settlements come to mind right away. The City of Sioux Falls entered into a confidential settlement with the builders of the Denny Sanford Premier Center, in regards to bulging exterior panels. And just two weeks ago, the Brookings School District entered into a confidential settlement with a former student who sued the district for denying her due process involving her suspension.

The bill under consideration would also make settlements a public record.

Governments belong to the people, and the people deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent. Governments are already required to publish all their expenditures, but settlements are sometimes made by a third party, which aren’t published. For example, a city may have a liability insurance policy, and in a settlement, the insurance company would pay monetary damages.

The bill would not involve any confidential settlements that don’t involve the state or local government. The bill also includes a number of items that could be redacted from the public release of a settlement, such as medical information, certain student information, trade secrets, computer passwords, credit card numbers, information regarding security of a facility and much more.

We believe SB 59 is a good bill and deserves to pass. Gov. Kristi Noem has indicated her support for the bill as part of her commitment to transparency in government operations.

We’re eager to hear the debate on the bill, and look forward to its passage.

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