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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

August 26, 2019

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Aug. 23

Time to end Noem’s ‘reefer madness’

Every so often, a news story emerges from South Dakota that underscores the relative lack of enlightenment among state leadership. The fact that we’ve become accustomed to it doesn’t mean it should continue.

The latest face palm occurred when a Minnesota hemp delivery driver was pulled over while transporting nearly 300 pounds of industrial hemp through South Dakota in July. He was arrested and charged with marijuana possession after a state trooper found two bags full of a “green leafy substance” that the driver was transporting from Denver to a processor in Minneapolis.

The Minnesota Hemp Association quickly called out South Dakota for violating the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized industrial hemp to be used in products such as clothing, food and construction materials. Federal guidelines assert that states cannot prohibit interstate transportation of hemp that meets legal standards, including a low threshold of THC, the substance that produces the “high” associated with marijuana.

That’s not a problem in most cases, since 47 states have passed laws to allow for industrial hemp cultivation and production, giving farmers an alternate crop and revenue source in challenging times.

Brace yourself for this: South Dakota is not one of those states. The reason is that Gov. Kristi Noem has a “reefer madness”-type fear that approving hemp is akin to legalizing mind-altering marijuana, which doesn’t square with the facts.

Noem vetoed an industrial hemp bill passed by the state legislature last session, calling it “part of a larger strategy to undermine enforcement of the drug laws and make legalized marijuana inevitable.”

Experts countered that the only inevitability was that hemp production will occur. It’s simply a matter of whether South Dakota farmers will get passed over by tribal interests or producers in neighboring states, losing out on a chance to broaden their agricultural operations.

Legislators are keenly aware of that concern, as well as ongoing dispute over a state law that makes cannabidiol (CBD) oils and lotions an illegal narcotic in South Dakota. Lawmakers from both parties are studying the issue this summer in advance of the 2020 session in Pierre, when they’re likely to make another run at a hemp-friendly statute.

This time, emboldened by further research and the realization that the clock is ticking on building the infrastructure for testing and processing, there could be enough support to override a veto from the governor’s desk.

Of course, the state would be better served if Noem and her administration showed flexibility on a rapidly growing industry that has little effect on public safety compared to top-tier drug concerns such as opioids and meth.

At a time when many South Dakota farmers and ranchers are feeling the pinch, it’s notable that a governor who ran on agricultural awareness would snuff out a potential revenue source due to a misplaced concern over drug enforcement.

Noem’s contention that it could be “reckless to introduce a product that has serious implications on the health and safety of the next generation” is ironic considering her support for permit-less concealed carry of handguns, a measure that was opposed by law enforcement organizations.

It’s difficult to pass significant legislation against the will of a governor, especially within the framework of South Dakota’s single-party rule. Let’s hope legislators studying the issue come armed with enough facts to persuade Noem to lower her resistance and become enlightened on this issue.

If that fails, it’s probably time to let progress march on without her.

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Rapid City Journal, Aug. 25

Time has come for online registration

We pay our bills online, sign up for car insurance online, view our health records online, and file income tax returns online.

We should be permitted to register to vote online.

Residents of 38 states currently can do it, including our neighbors in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.

Most of us are more concerned about our money than we are about our voter registration. If online transactions can be made safe for money, they can be made safe for voter registration.

That isn’t to say that online voting is ready for prime time. There are simply too many nefarious Russians, North Koreans, Republicans, Democrats and Iranians to make online voting secure during an election-day rush.

Voter registration, however, where submitted information is electronically matched against official state IDs, is ready. Any submission that looks amiss can be set aside for human review.

The Legislature will weigh in on whether South Dakotans should be granted this convenience during the next session after the Secretary of State Office’s Board of Elections recently recommended approval.

So far, all states that have opted for online voter registration continue to offer paper registration. If a resident does not have a valid ID, he would have to register in person, as voters do now.

Arizona was the innovator in paperless voter registration, implementing its system in 2002. Washington followed in 2008. Since then, more and more states have joined the trend.

According to a 2010 report, Arizona experienced a reduction in per-registration costs from 83 cents per paper registration to 3 cents per online registration. Other states also have experienced significant cost savings.

Online voter registration works, it saves money and it’s convenient.

Will it increase voter turnout? At least one study says it can noticeably improve voter turnout among young people in presidential elections.

Increased voter turnout is crucial to the long-term survival of our democracy. Anything that reduces barriers to voting, provided elections remain secure, is a good thing.

The next step to consider will be same-day voter registration. Currently, 21 states plus the District of Columbia permit any qualified resident to register to vote and cast a ballot all in the same day. South Dakota should wait on this, making changes to its voter registration process deliberately and incrementally.

For now, online voter registration would be a welcome improvement.

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Madison Daily Leader, Aug. 23

Small historical marker is removed this week

Without anyone noticing, a three-foot-square piece of concrete was removed this week as part of the reconstruction of SD-34 through Madison.

The concrete was part of the sidewalk on the east side of Washington Avenue near Kolorworks Paint & Decorating. In the corner of the square was stamped “WPA 1938.” The slab had no cracks or other visible aging marks that would indicate that it was poured 81 years ago.

But we think it’s worth revisiting that year to understand the stamp. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a New Deal agency established to provide work and income to unemployed Americans during the Great Depression, while developing infrastructure to support the nation’s future.

The WPA was established by Executive Order on May 6, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and led by Harry Hopkins, a close adviser to Roosevelt. To calculate the number of people the program would employ, administrators took the number of people on relief in 1935 (about 20 million), then subtracted children, the elderly, students and the incapacitated. Then they subtracted farm operators or others who they wanted to stay in their current occupations under other relief programs. The WPA allowed just one person per household to be employed by the agency, reducing the number to about 3.55 million.

The WPA reached its peak employment of 3.35 million in 1938, the year the sidewalk in Madison was constructed.

Other public works projects accompanied the WPA, and projects seemed to be everywhere. The Lake County Courthouse was one of seven constructed in South Dakota through the Public Works Administration. A sampling of WPA projects includes the governor’s residence in Pierre, the Post Office in Flandreau and the Watertown stadium, the latter two still being used today.

Hundreds of South Dakota communities had a new park, bridge, road or school constructed by the agency. The first year’s appropriation for the whole nation was $4.9 billion; as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, that amount would be about $1.3 trillion today.

When we take a walk through older parts of town (especially the historic district north of downtown), let’s look down at the sidewalk occasionally to look for WPA stamps. We can take a moment to remember the program that helped out our nation so much in both the short and the long terms.

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