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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

January 21, 2019

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Jan. 11

Will female ‘wave’ lead to policy changes?

The U.S. House of Representatives has a record-setting look in 2019: 106 members are women, a 15 percent increase from the previous session.

Along with historical electoral gains toward diversity in color, sexual orientation, religion and age, this brings the country closer to an accurate representation of its citizenry.

South Dakota also saw a jump, from 21 to 25 women serving in the state House after the November election. That nearly matches the high-water mark of 26 women during the 1991-92 term.

Then there’s the enormity of our state voting in its first-ever female governor.

As our brief annual legislative session grinds into gear, we’ll start to be able to tell if Kristi Noem’s gender plays a significant or merely symbolic role in her approach to governing.

Several nagging issues stand out that might finally get the attention they deserve, given the relatively high number of current female legislators complemented by a woman wielding the power of chief executive.

One is the stubborn reluctance of lawmakers in Pierre to take an actual stand against sexual harassment in their workplace.

After a rash of revelations about inappropriate capitol encounters ranging from bawdy talk to rape a few years ago, leading state legislators punted the issue to the following session.

The Band-Aid of a response they finally came up with was a brief, non-mandatory training session about workplace sexual harassment. A feeble step in the right direction.

Lawmakers must establish clear guidelines for appropriate behavior with colleagues, staffers and pages — addressing how to report, confidentiality, levels of discipline, penalties for retaliation and modes of appeal. Creating a safe and positive working environment is a priority that should come from the top.

Another problem that unfairly but persistently affects the women of South Dakota to a greater degree than its men is our lack of a statewide commitment to pre-kindergarten education.

Despite strides made in the direction of gender equality, studies show again and again that, on average, women shoulder the far greater burden of childcare.

Our state places nearly at the top — number four, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research — for percentage of women in the labor force. Nearly two-thirds of South Dakota women work.

Yet South Dakota is dead last in percentage of businesses owned by women, ranking 51st behind all other states and the District of Columbia. Fewer than 30 percent of South Dakota businesses were owned by women, according to data gathered in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s 2012 Survey of Business Owners.

For an already “business-friendly” state whose new governor wants to make it even more so, South Dakota doesn’t seem to be fertile ground for women looking to start a small business.

One route to clearing a path for more female business owners is to make finding care for their young children more accessible and affordable. That increases the realistic chance that they can leave stable employment under someone else and become their own boss.

We can do better by South Dakota’s children than we are now, and we can certainly do better by its working mothers.

Women now hold 35 percent of the seats in the South Dakota House. That beats our federal-level counterpart by 11 percentage points.

Even with a woman in the governor’s seat, though, we’re still a far cry from the genuine representation of half our state’s population.

A full one-third of the record number of U.S. Congresswomen won their seats for the first time in the November election. But we may be seeing less of a wave and more of a gradual incoming tide.

That’s better for our state and for our nation in the long run. Waves can crash against breakwaters like the longstanding boys club in Pierre, but tides are inexorable. We hope this one never recedes.

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Rapid City Journal, Jan. 17

Allow access to CBD oils

Senate Bill 22 is one of those pieces of legislation that does more than it says as members of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee learned Tuesday.

The Department of Health submitted the bill, which its attorney testified merely allows South Dakotans to purchase Epidiolex, a marijuana-derived cannabidiol, or CBD, oil approved in 2018 by the Food and Drug Administration.

The product is manufactured by GW Pharmaceuticals, a firm from the United Kingdom with an office in California called Greenwich Biosciences. The FDA approved the drug for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy. It is a new prescription drug and you know what that means — it is costly.

The legislation is clearly important to the company, which has three registered lobbyists from Greenwich Biosciences working at the 2019 Legislature. The company’s lobbyists also were in Pierre during the 2017 session, when Senate Bill 95, another pro-Epidiolex bill, was approved by the Legislature.

But the legislation does much more than secure the status of a single product.

According to the bill’s opponents, SB 22 makes all other CBD oils illegal to possess or sell in South Dakota. While the Health Department’s attorney — Justin Williams — did not make that part of his pitch for the bill, he didn’t dispute it either at Tuesday’s hearing.

What it means for South Dakotans is that hemp-derived CBD oils that were available in the state until police raids in September at stores that sold the product — including two in Rapid City — is treated like an illegal drug.

What makes this legislation curious is that the 2018 Farm Bill, which received the support of Sens. Thune and Rounds and was signed into law by President Trump, removes hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, declares it an agricultural product and places it under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture.

It is now legal on the federal level to grow industrial hemp and sell, transport and consume hemp-derived products. The legislation is expected to turbocharge the hemp industry, which means millions of dollars are at stake.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, is a leading proponent of hemp, citing the plant’s many uses, which includes CBD oil that many people claim helps with anxiety, sleeplessness and chronic pain. One opponent who testified Tuesday said hemp-derived CBD oil helped wean her off opioids. There also is no evidence the product is harmful or gets anyone high.

So why is state government seeking to make hemp-derived CBD oils illegal?

One school of thought is that the Legislature is being used to help Big Pharma corner the CBD oil market by allowing only those products in the state with FDA approval, a timely and costly process that favors big business. The federal government, however, does not require hemp-derived CBD oils to get FDA approval as long manufacturers don’t make specific health claims — the same standard applied to over-the-counter drugs and vitamins.

The other school of thought is that some lawmakers can’t or won’t make a distinction between marijuana and hemp, seeing both as a drug scourge that needs to be discouraged with the threat of incarceration.

The Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee could decide Wednesday on whether the state should criminalize the use of a legal agricultural product on the federal level or let South Dakotans have access to a product many claim helps them and will soon be widely available in other states, including Colorado, Montana and Minnesota.

SB 22 needs to be rewritten. South Dakotans should have access to a product that was once available and is safe, inexpensive and — according to its users — effective.

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Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Jan. 14

Triumph of the wall In Pierre

Last week, the South Dakota Senate jumped into the immigration debate by passing a resolution endorsing the concept of building the wall along the border with Mexico. This would fulfill a political promise President Donald Trump made to voters in 2016 (albeit, apparently, now without the part where Mexico would pay for it).

The vote was 28-5, which indicates more the lopsided disparity between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate (and the state) than it does the overwhelming practicality of building a border wall to keep out illegal immigrants.

The South Dakota House followed suit Monday by a 55-13 margin.

The president continually points to a crisis at the southern border, which is apparently so dire that he has ignited the current partial federal shutdown — remember, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a short-term resolution to keep the government open, but Trump rejected it — and has periodically threatened to declare a national emergency to go around Congress and construct the border wall.

But this “crisis” has a curiously unassuming look to it.

According to findings by The Washington Post, the number of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border has dropped from 1.6 million in 2000 to about 310,000 in 2017, which was the lowest number in 45 years.

A lot of those who constitute unlawful immigrants are actually considered “visa overstays,” meaning they came into this country legally and stayed beyond their departure date. A wall would do nothing about these people.

Also, the southern border doesn’t seem to be the open door for terrorists that some have portrayed it as being. For instance, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told a congressional committee earlier this month that 3,000 terrorists were apprehended at the border in the past year. However, data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection indicated just 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were stopped by border authorities between October 2017 and March 2018, but 35 of them were already U.S. citizens or permanent residents. This hardly constitutes the “black wind of death (that could) race across this nation from coast to coast,” as District 19 Sen. Stace Nelson put it last week when making his plea in Pierre to support the wall.

As for drugs pouring in across the wall-less border, the Drug Enforcement Administration says most of the drugs entering this country in the southwest are coming through official ports of entry.

However, if one must insist there is a crisis at the border, the Deseret News notes that it may actually be an “asylum system crisis.” There is a huge backlog of immigrants legally seeking asylum in this country and not enough immigration judges to process them in a timely fashion.

“What you need is not necessarily more detention, more security, more walls, more barriers, more detection,” according to Randy Capps, the director of research at the Migration Policy Institute, in an interview with “PBS Newshour.” ″You need facilities that can handle women and children, a better and faster screening process for asylum.”

Thus, the wall that President Trump wants to build — or at least wants to appear to be fighting for — isn’t really addressing a crisis that has reached a dangerous critical mass. Instead, it’s about the political potency of fear. It’s about demonizing those on the margins in order to sway the mainstream in a desired direction. (Remember the pre-election caravan that was marching for our border and made headlines everywhere last October? It vanished from the political radar almost completely after the election was over and its usefulness exhausted.) And perhaps all this is about creating a smokescreen to distract our attentions from other matters bearing down on the White House.

“I am personally tired of the politics of fear,” District 18 Sen. Craig Kennedy of Yankton declared during last week’s debate in Pierre. “I am not frightened by 7-year-old Guatemalan children and their mothers who are looking to come to the United States to ask for asylum to have a chance to have a better life. I don’t know why we feel the need to demonize that and to call these people ‘terrorists’ and ‘hoodlums’ and ‘criminals.’ It’s just wrong.”

On Monday, Vermillion Sen. Ray Ring said the wall is not “what our country stands for and what our faith stands for.”

But it apparently does stand well with the South Dakota Legislature and with a portion of the president’s base of support, at least. And that may be the most discouraging crisis of all in the immigration debate.

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