American News, Aberdeen, March 14

On refugees, lawmakers lead by fear

South Dakota is full of warm, welcoming people. That welcoming spirit is challenged by change.

And while we need to be safe, and cautious, and realistic, South Dakotans cannot stand by as elected officials try to write racism into our laws.

We cannot let fear or misunderstanding govern us.

Unfortunately, that seems to have been a theme at this year's legislative session in Pierre.

In February, state Sen. Neal Tapio, R-Watertown, introduced a concurrent resolution that would formally acknowledge Islamic terrorism "the root cause of the global war on terrorism."

Tapio upped the rhetoric in a news release issued Feb. 5 by his U.S. House campaign: ". anyone, any organization, business or political candidate who fails to support the resolution is by omission declaring themselves an apologist for radical Islam, an enemy of the state and de facto supporter of and accomplice to violent jihad on American soil."

Let that sink in. By not supporting his resolution, Tapio calls fellow lawmakers enemies of the state and accomplices to jihad.

The resolution failed on a 19-16 vote.

Tapio, who was the manager for President Donald Trump's campaign in South Dakota, seems to have taken a cue from his former boss; Trump had previously called Democrats "treasonous" for not applauding him at the State of the Union. Later, the president claimed to be joking.

The state senator from Watertown appears to be serious, and believes he serves in Pierre with men and women who support terrorism.

But one of his colleagues appears firmly on Tapio's side.

On Feb. 21, Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, spoke during the Senate State Affairs Committee's hearing of Senate Bill 200, a Tapio bill that would have suspended all direct or indirect refugee resettlement in South Dakota of citizens from countries on Trump's federal travel ban list.

"I believe we should be searching the people who look like the people who committed the crimes of 9/11," Novstrup was reported to say.

At a Feb. 24 cracker barrel meeting in Aberdeen, Novstrup doubled-down, saying more time should be spent "searching for people that look like a terrorist."

"My quote was they should be looking at people that look like the hijackers of 9/11," Novstrup said at the cracker barrel. "I pointed out that a group of multi-racial people are the people we should be looking at.

"Does that seem strange to you? That I'm a racist because I point out we should be looking at multi-racial people, meaning all the races?"

Given the benefit of the doubt, let's say those comments come from a place of fear, not hatred.

But as a state, we must do better than this.

Tapio and Novstrup have a big platform but are using it to frighten and intimidate. That's not right.

We agree that all laws on the books related to immigration and terrorism must be followed.

We agree that authorities must address serious gaps in reporting and sharing information to keep us safe.

We agree that all newcomers must live by our laws or face consequences — which may be stiffer, depending on residency status.

And we agree that South Dakota should ask a lot of questions about refugee resettlement.

But those questions aren't about race or religion or treating people differently because they don't look like the majority.

Questions we should ask might include: Do our cities have the capacity to bring in dozens or hundreds of refugees? Can our school systems support these families? Do we have jobs enough for these folks, and are they being trained? How about our police and sheriffs — do they have the right staffing, tools and outreach? How are we giving messages to folks just learning English? What options do we have to make people feel welcomed and part of the community?

These are questions Tapio and Novstrup do not seem to be asking.

Those are questions of curiosity and friendliness, not fear. And they are much more in keeping with the South Dakota we all know.

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Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, March 13

Clamping down on zebra mussels

When it comes to zebra mussels, officials at the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area are determined to send a message this year.

Recently, the Press and Dakotan reported that park officials are going to ramp up their enforcement of rules to prevent the spread of the invasive mussels to other waters.

In short, after years of working to educate boaters about the need to clean their boats and drain away river/lake water when they leave the L&C area, officials are going to be issuing more tickets to drive the point home.

"The first year or so was kind of an education period, not writing a lot of citations on it," said Dan Altman, conservation officer at Lewis and Clark Recreation Area. "We're far enough into the process now where, if somebody is violating an (aquatic invasive species) regulation, they can pretty well expect a citation on it. We've been enforcing it but we're going to step it up even more."

Unfortunately, such steps are necessary, because it's the only way to help contain the shockingly rampant growth of these species in local water.

It wasn't so long ago — the fall of 2014 — when an adult zebra mussel was found in Lewis and Clark Lake, setting off the warning bells and efforts to contain the infestation.

But the arrival of the invasive species literally turned into an epic invasion, and officials have seemingly been surprised — if not flabbergasted — by the exponential growth of the numbers in the lake. The mussels are now everywhere. Last year, park officials began posting signs at the beach areas warning swimmers to wear aquatic footwear to protect their feet from cuts due to the presence of the mussels on the lake's bottom.

In other words, the trend has not been encouraging in the least.

Preventing the spread of the mussels to other bodies of water is not impossible, but it's going to take rigorous vigilance. Park officials are going to do their best to make sure that watercraft don't transport potentially infested water to other bodies. It would be like putting a match to a fuse. It's estimated, for instance, that a gallon of water from Lewis and Clark are could create infestation problems for the vast Lake Oahe. Picturing that ratio is discouraging and daunting.

But it's not impossible, or at least that's the message that park officials intend to send

So that's a fair warning to anyone planning on bringing watercraft to the lake area in the warm days to come: There are precautions to follow and rules in place, and you WILL be expected to follow them.

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Capital Journal, Pierre, March 12

Kudos to the Legislature

On Friday, the South Dakota state Legislature passed a budget that included a 1.2 percent pay raise for state employees.

This is good for Pierre, Fort Pierre and the rest of the state. We already pay less than most other states and just about every time there's a revenue shortfall we ask our employees to bear some of the brunt. Every time that happens, our employees fall a little bit further behind their colleagues in other states.

For Pierre and Fort Pierre, the benefit of stable, if not rising, state employee pay is obvious. It means there'll be more money circulating in the local economy. About a third of the residents of Pierre, for example, either are or are related to a state employee.

The rest of the state doesn't see quite so much of that particular benefit, but they do benefit from having happier state employees. Our government, much like a lot of employers in South Dakota, is having a tough time filling certain positions. Jobs that require accounting or law degrees have become particularly tough to fill of late, thanks in part to below-market pay.

Having well-trained, dedicated accountants in the, say, Department of Revenue can and does help keep better tabs on the state's tax revenue, which means less wasteful spending and fewer people cheating on their taxes at the expense of everyone else. By the same token, being able to hire quality lawyers to provide legal advice or prosecute criminals can save taxpayers from having to foot the bill for costly legal mistakes.

We pride ourselves on having a small government in this state, as well we should. Smaller government by its very nature is more accountable to its citizens. That does not mean we don't need at least some government. It is precisely because we need government to manage such things as criminal prosecution and road maintenance that we have to take care of the folks who do those things on our behalf.

Now, a 1.2 percent pay raise may not seem like much, and to be honest it isn't, but it does show our employees that we do care about them. So, kudos to the legislature for giving state employees a much-needed raise. Next year, let's maybe look at trying to make state employee pay a bit more competitive with our neighbors.