A short conversation with Rep Ray Ring

Rep Ray Ring speaking on the SD House floor. Photo by Ken Santema 02/25/15.
Rep Ray Ring speaking on the SD House floor. Photo by Ken Santema 02/25/15.

While attending the Death Penalty Repeal forum one of the legislators I took some time to chat with was Rep Ray Ring (D, Dist 17). Rep Ring is in his second term in the SD state House and hails from the Vermillion area. Like the other conversations in this series, the chat was kept short and focused on 2016.

When talking about the death penalty Rep Ring said his “mind is made up and I’ve been opposed to the death penalty for many years”. He believes a consistent pro-life policy includes being opposed to the death penalty. Rep Ring considers himself to be pro-life and has been a member of South Dakota Right to Life for many years. He says opposing the death penalty and being pro-life is part of a “consistent ethic”.

I then asked Rep Ring about what he is looking at for legislation going into the 2016 session (minus Medicaid Expansion and the Blue Ribbon Task Force). Rep Ring said something needs to be changed about how revenue estimates are arrived at. That is not a surprising answer from Ring, as he is an economist. From an outside perspective I have to agree that revenue estimates may have been too conservative; which in turn has left too much money for the Governor to play with budgetary-wise at the end of the year when there is a large surplus.

On the budgetary side Rep Ring thinks a lot of time will be spent discussion school funding. He believes talking about increasing the sales tax rate will be a huge issue. When talking about these budgetary items (including Medicaid expansion) Rep Ring was worried that so much attention will be focused on the details that the overall big picture will be lost. To further explain, Ring thinks that so much time could be spent looking at a new school funding formula that little focus will be placed upon getting new sources of revenue to the schools. He doesn’t see just simply moving money around the budget as a solution.

This session I hope to catch up with Ring again. There were a few economic questions I’ve been meaning to ask him and I simply forgot them that day.

A look at the first transgender bill filed for the SD 2016 legislative session

Locker Room © Calyx22 | Dreamstime.com
Locker Room © Calyx22 | Dreamstime.com

The 2016 legislative session is almost here, and the bills have started coming in. The first bill coming down the pike not originating from an interim committee is a transgender bill. This bill appears aimed at keeping boys and girls in their respective bathrooms and locker rooms.

Somehow I have blogged about transgender legislation more than I would ever have believed. The last time was two weeks ago when I looked at the SDHSAA and Title IX. But a look at the SDHSAA tag on SoDakLiberty.com shows the new transgender policy adopted by the SDHSAA has been an ongoing legislative theme all year. I have a feeling this issue will not go away anytime soon.

Here is the legislation actually being proposed and a brief look at its contents:

HB 1008 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Restrict access to certain restrooms and locker rooms in public schools.

The bill is prime sponsored by Rep Fred Deutsch (R, Dist 4) and Sen Brock Greenfield  (R, Dist 2).

Section 1 makes it quite clear what is being talked about in the battle over sex/gender:

The term, biological sex, as used in this Act, means the physical condition of being male or female as determined by a person’s chromosomes and identified at birth by a person’s anatomy.

My first obvious question to this is what about hermaphrodites? Since they have both sexual organs, will some sort of chromosome test have to be done?

Section 2 of the bill makes it quite clear that if passed into law it would ensure boys and girls are to use different bathroom and locker facilities:

Every restroom, locker room, and shower room located in a public elementary or secondary school that is designated for student use and is accessible by multiple students at the same time shall be designated for and used only by students of the same biological sex. In addition, any public school student participating in a school sponsored activity off school premises which includes being in a state of undress in the presence of other students shall use those rooms designated for and used only by students of the same biological sex.

Notice how the legislation finds a way to restrict the SDHSAA policy without actually naming the SDHSAA. My question here is how the law will work for off-premises activities. Is the legislature possibly overstepping its bounds here? I’m not sure, but I’m sure it will come up in committee discussion.

Section 3 of the bill provides for accommodation of any study that believes their gender does not match their sex.

If any student asserts that the student’s gender is different from the student’s biological sex, and if the student’s parent or guardian consents to that assertion in writing to a public school administrator, or if the student is an adult or an emancipated minor and makes the assertion in writing to a public school administrator, the student shall be provided with a reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is one that does not impose an undue hardship on a school district. A reasonable accommodation may not include the use of student restrooms, locker rooms, or shower rooms designated for use by students of the opposite biological sex if students of the opposite biological sex are present or could be present. A reasonable accommodation may include a single-occupancy restroom, a unisex restroom, or the controlled use of a restroom, locker room, or shower room that is designated for use by faculty. The requirement to provide a reasonable accommodation pursuant to this section does not apply to any nonpublic school entity.

Going off a point I made with section 2: why would nonpublic school entities be exempt from Section 3, but not  exempt from what was set out in Section 2. I would think nonpublic entities would be exempt from this no matter what. This bill is skirting into, if not down right intruding into, property rights.

Finally, Section 4 puts the state on the hook for any lawsuits that arise:

If any public school district, school district officer or employee, school board, or school board member is sued in state or federal court as a result of a decision based upon and consistent with a student’s biological sex, notwithstanding any assertion that the student’s gender is different than the student’s biological sex, the attorney general shall represent the school district, school district officer or employee, school board, or school board member at no cost to the school district, school district officer or employee, school board, or school board member, and the State of South Dakota shall assume all financial responsibility for the legal expenses. The legal expenses for which the state is responsible include any award for monetary damages or attorneys’ fees and costs which may be awarded and for which the school district, school district officer or employee, school board, or school board member would otherwise be responsible.

Yes, I have a feeling lawsuits will arise and that we will see the AG’s office defending this bill if passed into law.

Personally I don’t have a problem with transgendered people using whatever bathroom/locker-room they wish. But this is a battle that has been brewing for a few years and is finally coming to a head in South Dakota.

Transgender rights groups have tried hard to get legislation introduced in South Dakota for years, and failed. So instead they worked through other groups and were able to get the SDHSAA to create the policy they wanted. This is a tactic used by many activist groups: try to legislate via bureaucracies.

Personally I think transgender rights groups took the wrong approach in South Dakota. I think it would have been better to use the already established means that allowed a child to play a sport outside of their sex. If enough of students existed and cause was shown for a new policy I think cultural change would have been easier and solutions would have come forth for change.

But instead a change was made that many conservatives in South Dakota feel is an attack on their core values. That changed this situation from being a slowly evolving cultural war, into a legislative cultural battle with both sides going after total victory. That is just unproductive for both sides of the issue; and I think even more unproductive for those fighting for transgender rights. Legislation will not force anyone to change their opinion about what makes a boy a boy or what makes a girl a girl.

One bill prefiled for the School District Boundary Task Force

The School District Boundary Task Force prefiled one bill for the South Dakota 2016 legislative session. The task force was created by SB 134 (SoDakLiberty Posts) during the 2015 legislative session. SB 134 prevented minor boundary changes for one year and created the task force with these mission items:

  1. Examine the boundaries of the existing school districts and recommend possible changes to those school district boundaries.
  2. Recommend a process for addressing minor boundary changes in the future.
  3. Submit a final report to the Governor and Executive Board of the Legislative Research Council no later than Dec. 1, 2015.

The final report submitted to the Executive Board can be read here. All documents from the Task Force this year can be found here.

In its presentation to the Executive Board on Dec 8, the School District Boundary Task Force only submitted one bill on minor boundary changes. The task force also recommend further discussion of Non‐Contiguous & Irregular Boundaries and Attendance Centers within the Boundaries of another School District.

2015-2016 SD School District Map from the SD DOE website.
2015-2016 SD School District Map from the SD DOE website.

Here is the bill prefiled for the 2016 legislative session:

SB 5 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Revise the procedure to initiate a school district boundary change.

Sen Deb Peters (R, Dist 9) and Rep Herman Otten (R, Dist 6) are the prime sponsors on behalf of the School District Boundary Task Force.

This bill is directed at problems mostly in the Sioux Falls area, specifically with the Tea school district. But the task force does note there could be problems in other areas of the state. Part of the driver for this legislation is to stop the lawsuits that have been occurring between school districts to keep their tax base.

At this time I’m going to refrain from looking deep into the legislation. I think this would be a good bill to listen to the committee testimony on and make judgements after listening to both sides.

But, going into session I wonder if a better solution wouldn’t be to look at further consolidation of school districts. That wouldn’t necessarily mean any individual school closing, but it could mean saving taxpayer dollars on administrative overhead and unnecessary boundary legal battles.

A short chat with Arthur Rush

Sen Arthur Rusch speaking on the SD Senate floor. Photo by Ken Santema 02/11/15.
Sen Arthur Rusch speaking on the SD Senate floor. Photo by Ken Santema 02/11/15.

One of the legislators I took some time to chat with while attending the Death Penalty Repeal forum was Sen Arthur Rusch (R, Dist 17). Rusch is a retired judge and a published writer (see PS). I think his experience as a retired judge adds a whole new dimension to the debate surrounding the death penalty. This chat with Sen Rusch was short and focused mostly on the 2016 legislative session.

I asked Rusch about death penalty. He had presided over a case as a circuit judge where a man was sentenced to death. Rusch said “death is difficult”. As a South Dakota legislator he believes he is the first to be elected to serve in Pierre with first-hand experience dealing with the death penalty. When I asked how committed he was to ending the death penalty in South Dakota, Rusch said he was introducing the bill to repeal the death penalty. Personally I think a retired judge who has overseen a death penalty case will hold a lot of weight introducing such a bill in Pierre.

Looking towards the 2016 legislative session I asked Rusch what he thought would be the big issues he would be looking at (excluding Medicaid expansion and the Blue Ribbon Task Force). Rusch mentioned the comparative negligence bill. That was HB 1103 (SoDakLiberty Posts) during the 2015 session, which was defeated on the Senate floor. It was sponsored by Rep Mike Stevens (R, Dist 18) on the House side and Sen Rush in the Senate. He feels the current system has “deprived some people of decent recoveries”. This is a bill I will keep an eye on during the committee process to learn more about.

I also spoke with Rusch briefly about lawyers in the state legislator. I’ve heard many people say, and Rusch agreed he has heard as well, that the legislature is full of lawyers. Yet Rusch noted he is the only lawyer on the Senate side. He believes part of the problem is legislative pay being too small for lawyers to close their offices during tax season. Rusch did seem to speak a lot on the Senate floor during the 2015 session. He said it was intentional that he spoke so often. It wasn’t because he wanted so much floor time; but rather he wanted to ensure a legal perspective was heard on certain bills. Rusch noted the House side had more lawyers, but the Senate really only had him.

Sen Rusch might be an interesting legislator to watch during the 2016 session. I know the previous session I learned a lot listening to him. Hopefully that holds true going forward.

PS. Just a week after speaking with Rusch I was coincidentally given a copy of a book he authored titled County Capitols: The Courthouses of South Dakota. This has been a great read in my new-found hobby of studying South Dakota history.

Death Penalty repeal forum pt 6: QA Session and opposing view

Death Penalty repeal forum panel in Sioux Falls. Photo by Ken Santema 12/12/15.
Death Penalty repeal forum panel in Sioux Falls. Photo by Ken Santema 12/12/15.

At the end of the Human Face of the Death Penalty forum sponsored by South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty there was a short question and answer session. The QA session ended up being more interesting than I anticipated because an audience member gave her perspective as a victim that supports the death penalty.

Here is the full video of the forums QA session. I believe this part of the forum is worth listening to in order to hear the other side of the story. Below I am going to pull out some brief key parts of QA session, but I would urge everyone to listen to hear an opposing viewpoint!

The video is just over 22 minutes long.

Why speak about the death penalty in Europe

One of the audience members asked a question I was curious about myself. The panelists repeatedly mentioned during the forum that they had traveled all over Europe speaking about the death penalty.

Shujaa Graham answered this question. He noted that many European countries continue have debates about restoring the death penalty after certain events happen. The panelists continue to travel to Europe to ensure the death penalty is not re-instituted in those countries.

It should be noted the EU has taken a strong stance against the death penalty in its member states.

Nebraska death penalty repeal referred to voters

Even though the legislature successfully passed legislation to repeal the death penalty, that was not the end of the story. In August a group called Nebraskans for the Death Penalty delivered 166,692 petition to the SOS in order to refer the law to the voters in 2016. In October Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale announced enough valid signatures had been verified by the counties to certify the referendum. That basically put the new law on hold until the results of the 2016 election come in.

Nebraska State Senator Colby Coash handled the question about what happens now that the new law has been referred to the voters. Coash says the referendum will likely be held up in the courts, and there are some possible problems with it. He also claims the Nebraska governor, Pete Ricketts, has used a lot of his own money to drive the petition process. The Journal Star out of Lincoln, NE, confirms this to be true.

I have talked to a few pro death penalty advocates in South Dakota since doing these blog posts and have a feeling any death penalty repeal law passed in SD would also be referred to the voters. Both sides are very passionate about this issue.

Why isn’t pro-life one of the values

An audience member asked Sen Coash why pro-life was not one of the conservative values he used to help defeat the death penalty.

Coash said he did use that talking point. But he “kept running into buzzsaws” when using that talking point. People would mention there is a difference between an innocent life and a guilty life.

Proponent of the death penalty speaks

Then a person from the audience who happened to be a family member of a victim spoke from her perspective. He father, a prison correctional officer, was killed by two in people in the state penitentiary. This is a well-known case in SD. One of the murderers was put to death in 2012. The other murderer in this case has his execution stayed.

I would ask everyone opposed to the death penalty to listen to her story (it begins about the 8 minute mark in the video). It is important to hear both sides of the story. She admitted that in her opinion she finds only a few cases where the death penalty is OK. I believe her story makes a good case for how dangerous some people truly are, especially to those working in correctional facilities.

One thing she brought up was that she had no victims rights. As I’ve looked into the issue I have to agree with her.

After hearing her story I didn’t change my stance on the death penalty. But as I said above, it is important to hear both sides of the issue; especially from a person such as this who has first-hand experience as a victim’s family member right here in South Dakota. Personally I find her to be very brave for coming into such a forum and bringing up an opposing viewpoint.

Up Next – The Final Post

Up next in this series will be the final post in this series coming out of the Human Face of the Death Penalty forum. This will basically be a recap post of the forum.

County Government Interim Committee has prefiled six bills for 2016

1892 map of South Dakota Counties provided by LRC Audit presentation.
1892 map of South Dakota Counties provided by LRC Audit presentation.

The County Government Interim Committee has prefiled six bills for the 2016 South Dakota Legislative session. Most of these revolve around getting more money to counties. It should be interesting to see how the counties compete with the Blue Ribbon Task Force for new funds this session.

Here are the six bills that have been pre-filed:

HB 1002 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Eliminate certain reporting requirements for the county general fund.

Rep Kristin Conzet (R, Dist 32) and Sen Bob Ewing (R, Dist 31) are the prime sponsors on behalf of the County Government Interim Committee.

Legislative Audit proposed this bill to remove a reporting requirement from the counties because that data is not used for anything. I don’t foresee any problems with this bill getting passed.

HB 1003 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Revise certain administrative functions regarding county government.

Rep Joshua Klumb (R, Dist 20) and Sen Mike Vehle (R, Dist 20) are the prime sponsors on behalf of the County Government Interim Committee.

The minutes from the Oct 28 committee meetings gives this reason for HB 1003:

This bill addresses some of the antiquated language found in statute regarding the counties. Some of the language dates back to 1907. Several county officials assisted in the drafting of this bill.

Looking at the bill I can see that it is mostly language cleanup. One odd addition though is that County Commissions would be able to impose a $25 contempt fine to preserve order. The current fine is $5. The power to place people in jail for up to twenty-four hours to preserve order is also kept in place. My question: why not get rid of this altogether? Do the county commissions need fine and jailing authority to keep their meetings tidy? Personally I think HB 1003 should be amended to remove the ability of County Commissions to fine and jail people.

HB 1004 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Make form and style revisions to certain statutes regarding counties.

Rep Kristin Conzet (R, Dist 32) and Sen Bob Ewing (R, Dist 31) are the prime sponsors on behalf of the County Government Interim Committee.

This is what the October 28 minutes show as the reason for this bill:

This bill addresses some of the antiquated style and form provisions found in Title 7 and revises them to adhere to current style and form practices. Before finalizing the bill, more study needs to be done to make sure none of the changes affect the substance of the law.

This is a cleanup bill, on of my favorite types of bills. After a browsing of the bill I don’t see any obvious problems. But it will definitely have to be looked at closer to ensure there aren’t problems caused by this cleanup bill.

HB 1005 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Revise and repeal certain fees that are established to compensate counties for services provided by county officials.

Rep Mary Duvall (R, Dist 24) and Sen Jim Peterson (D, Dist 4) are the prime sponsors on behalf of the County Government Interim Committee.

Here is what the October 28 minutes show as the reason for this bill:

This bill looks at several different fees that are collected by the counties and either repeals the fee or raises the fee to better cover the actual cost of the service.

Here is a list of some of the changes listed in the bill. There are a LOT of fee increases listed here.

  • Repeals the 50 cent fee the register of deeds can charge for recording each official bond
  • Repeals the 25 cent fee the county auditor can charge for certifying to the acknowledgment of any instrument
  • Repeals the 10 cent fee the county auditor can charge for administering an oath and certifying to the same
  • Repeals a $3 auditors board pay per day. (this one I’ll have to listen to testimony to understand)
  • Changes the Application for a certificate of title from $5 to $10.
  • Changes each notation of any lien on a certificate of title fee from $5 to $10
  • Changes the boat owners administrative fee from $1 to $3 for each boat.
  • Changes the fee from $5 to $10 for issuance of a certificate of title, a transfer of title, or a corrected certificate of title for boats.
  • Changes the fee from $5 to $10 for noting the lien on a boat.
  • Changes the fee from $5 to $10 for commercial vehicles that will discontinue service.
  • Changes to how a county sheriff is reimbursed for transporting prisoners before the judge.
  • Changes the fee from $25 to $50 for the sheriffs to serve summons, complaint, warrant of attachment, affidavit, notice and undertaking in claim and delivery, or injunction, order to show cause, citation, or other process, and return of the instrument
  • Changes the fee from $5 to $10 for sheriffs to serve the above noted items when the same personal is already being served with something.
  • Changes the fee from $10 to $20 for sheriffs to serving subpoena for witness
  • Changes the mileage reimbursement for sheriffs
  • Changes the fee from $35 to $95 for sheriffs serving writ of execution
  • Changes the fee from $25 to $50 for sheriffs levying writ of possession
  • Changes the fee from $50 to $100 for sheriffs making deed for land sold on execution or order of sale
  • Changes the commission received by sheriffs on all money received and disbursed by the sheriff on execution or order of sale, order of attachment, decree or on sale of real property or personal property
  • Increases the share a sheriff gets from the execution or order of sale is issued and sold in bids.
  • Increases the fees charged by county law libraries
  • Changes board of appraisers reimbursement
  • Changes fee for Execution, filing, and recording of statements for partnerships.

HB 1006 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Authorize counties to impose sales and use taxes.

Rep Elizabeth May (R, Dist 27) and Sen Bob Ewing (R, Dist 31) are the prime sponsors on behalf of the County Government Interim Committee.

This of course will be the bill to watch. Will the legislature dare to pass a new sales and use tax, especially while the legislature will be looking at ways to get new revenues for education funding.

This would allow the counties to impose a 1 cent tax. It can be referred to the people. The new sales tax would take effect on the 1st of July or 1st of January; whichever comes first after a 90 day wait, and only if a referendum hasn’t put it before the voters.

With this bill the counties can use this penny tax for issuing bonds. the bonds can be used for “land acquisition, capital improvements, and capital asset acquisition, to establish a debt service reserve fund for the bonds, and to pay not more than one year’s capitalized interest on the bonds.”

This was tried last year via HB 1227 (SoDakLiberty Posts). The bill made it out of the House Taxation committee with a vote of 9-6. It then failed on the House floor 32-37.

According to the September 17 committee minutes this new county sales tax would ” raise $210 million if set at the highest rate in each county.”

I do agree that many steps taken by the state over the last couple of decades has pushed a lot of expense from the state to the counties, while the state simultaneously restricted revenue going to the counties. But I just don’t see this proposed sales tax going anywhere.

SB 2 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Revise the distribution of the revenue from the alcoholic beverage fund.

Sen Bob Ewing (R, Dist 31) and Rep Leslie Heinemann (R, Dist 8) are the prime sponsors on behalf of the County Government Interim Committee.

Here is what the Oct 28 committee meeting minutes say about this bill:

This bill revises how the alcoholic beverage fund is distributed. Currently, the state receives 75% and the municipalities received 25%, totaling about $10.5 million to the state and $3.5 million to the municipalities. This bill would change it to the state, counties, and municipalities each receiving 1/3 of the amount.

Actually I could see this one passing. It doesn’t raise any taxes. Rather it ensures more money goes to the counties, and slightly raises the amount going to the municipalities.

Death Penalty repeal forum pt 5: Sen Colby Coash

Nebraska State Senator Colby Coash speaking in Sioux Falls. Photo by Ken Santema 12/12/15.
Nebraska State Senator Colby Coash speaking in Sioux Falls. Photo by Ken Santema 12/12/15.

It is time for the final speaker in Part 5 of a series of blog posts revolving around the Human Face of the Death Penalty forum sponsored by South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.  Previous posts in this series have focused on two men wrongfully sentenced to death (Juan Roberto Meléndez-Colón and Shujaa Graham) and on the story of a victim survivor that has fought against the death penalty (SueZann Bosler). This post will focus on Colby Coash, a Republican State Senator from Nebraska who was instrumental in getting the death penalty repealed in that state.

Here is the full video of Colby Coash speaking at the forum. His story is worth listening to because he was able to find the right talking points to get a red state to actually repeal the death penalty. Below I am going to pull out some brief key parts of Coash’s story, but I would urge everyone to listen to his story!

The video is just over 36 minutes long.

Key Parts of the Story of Colby Coash

Colby Coash started by noting he was in a meeting about a year ago with the hopes to try repealing the death penalty in Nebraska. A colleague of his has tried offering legislation for 38 years.  Nebraska is a red state just like South Dakota. The chances looked grim for actually getting the death penalty repealed there. But it was repealed during 2015 in Nebraska.

Colby Coash mentioned that while growing up the death penalty really wasn’t something he thought about, or opposed. I think most of us can relate with him. But while he was going to college some friends brought him to an execution at the penitentiary. When entering the pen parking lot he found out the people attending were split into two groups, those for and those opposed to the death penalty. On the side Coash was on, the pro side, there was a band and tailgating going on. Coash called the event “festive”, and included fireworks. He noticed the opposition side was being silent and praying, while his side was drinking beer. During the drive home Coash had to think about what he had just participated in and how that fit with the values he was raised with. He vowed never to be in a situation like that again; but then put it in the back of his head.

Years later Coash was elected to the Nebraska State Senate. As a young Senator, Coash was assigned to the Judiciary committee. This time Coash was sure where he stood on the death penalty. He then spent the next seven years fighting against the death penalty. I won’t go through his legislative history of votes, he explains that pretty well in the video above.

Coash spent years trying to get death penalty repeal legislation passed. 2015 was the last attempt and he tried a different approach. He started sharing his story with colleagues and voters.

Coash also had to look at what had been done over the last 38 years and why it wasn’t working to repeal the death penalty. Here are some of the talking point that had been tried over and over without gaining any traction:

  • The death penalty disproportionately affects minorities. Coash noted that talking point just was not working.
  • The death penalty is unfair. Coash notes that in Nebraska not one of the death row inmates claimed to be innocent. That removed the whole debate about innocence.
  • The death penalty is unfair socially. Rich people can get a lawyer to defend themselves, and the people on death row were less fiscally advantaged so were unable to defend themselves. This also did not work as a talking point.

After looking at the talking points above that didn’t work, Coash had to find talking points that would work in Nebraska. The above talking points were “old and tired”. They may be true, but the talking points were not resonating with the Nebraska legislature or the voters.

So then Coash changed the narrative away from the above talking points and went towards more conservative talking points. He looked at how the death penalty matches with conservative values, and live by those values.

Here are some of those values:

  • Fiscal responsibility. Coash noted the death penalty system in Nebraska was broken, and costing the taxpayers a lot of money (true country-wide thanks to drug companies being pressured). He passed on the message of fixing a broken part of government.
  • Justice. Death row inmates were spending decades on death row without the sentence being carried out. This would not allow closure for the victims families. Coash said the state should focus on sentences where justice could be carried out without extending the suffering of the victims families.
  • Limited government. Coash focused on whether the government should have the right to take a life. This was a strong talking point in Nebraska because it is a Republican majority.

The above talking points resonated better with his Republican colleagues because they focused on core conservative values. In addition to those talking points there was a group similar to South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty that was getting voters to give their legislators support. They were not attacking legislators, rather they were letting the legislators know they would be supported back in their district for voting to repeal the death penalty.

My Thoughts

Putting Sen Coash’s approach in work during the South Dakota 2016 legislative session is workable. SD is a red state just like Nebraska. Conservative values should work here just as well as they worked in Nebraska. I’ve covered SD politics for a few years now and have heard most Republican legislators in this state campaign on fiscal responsibility, justice and limited government. Those are the very same talking points Coash was able to use in order to get the death penalty repealed in Nebraska.

I also think everyone opposed to the death penalty should reach out to South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. They could use help coaxing legislators during the 2016 session. I truly do feel South Dakota can and should repeal the death penalty. I also feel it is possible in 2016!

Next Post

All of the panelists have spoken now. The next post will be a short QA session. Also there will be some remarks from the crowd offering the other side of the death penalty debate.

Two more rounds of executive appointments and reappointments

Anonymous-reunion-1-300px

Updated 1-19-15 to correct term expiration for Dr Ani Aprahamian.

I was just reviewing the South Dakota LRC registers for December 21 and December 28 and noticed more executive appointments and reappointments. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by how popular these posts about the appointments has been. Apparently people want to know who gets appointed where.

A good amount of these are new appointments, the rest are all reappointments. I’ve listed the new appointments and added some detail to them if possible. At the end of this post I’ve listed the reappointments.

Appointments

Peter Bullene, Watertown, was appointed on December 11, 2015, to the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council, to replace Jeff Haase, effective immediately and shall continue until October 30, 2018.

Bullene is the Environment, Health and Safety Manager for Glacial Lakes Energy, LLC.

Craig Dybedahl, Colton, was appointed on December 11, 2015, to the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, to replace James Feller, effective immediately and shall continue until October 30, 2018.

Dybedahl is the territory business manager for Zoetis and appears to take the Lay Member position on the board.

Dr. Roland Good, Parker, was appointed on December 11, 2015, to the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, to replace Dr. Lawrence Zimmer, effective immediately and shall continue until October 30, 2018.

Good is a veterinarian for the Parker Vet Clinic.

Dave Luers, Pierre, was appointed on December 11, 2015, to the South Dakota Aeronautics Commission, to replace Richard Pearson, effective immediately and shall continue until October 30, 2016.

Verle Valentine¸ Sioux Falls, was appointed on December 11, 2015, to the South Dakota Athletic Commission, to replace Dr. Michael Bergeron, effective immediately and shall continue until June 30, 2016.

Valentine is a sports medicine doctor for Sanford.

Dan Smith, Yankton, was appointed on December 16, 2015, to the South Dakota Board of Hearing Aid Dispensers and Audiologists, to replace Robert Reierson, effective immediately and shall continue until October 30, 2018.

Smith takes a Dispenser position on the board.

Reappointments

Dr. Ani Aprahamian, Notre Dame, Indiana, was reappointed on December 11, 2015, to the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, effective December 10, 2015, and shall continue until December 9, 2018 2021.

Wanda J. Blair, Vale, was reappointed on December 11, 2015, to the State Brand Board, effective January 5, 2016, and shall continue until January 4, 2019.

Lyla Hutchison, Wounded Knee, was reappointed on December 11, 2015, to the State Brand Board, effective January 5, 2016, and shall continue until January 5, 2019.

Sara J. Weishaar, Bison, was reappointed on December 16, 2015, to the Behavioral Health Advisory Council, effective immediately and shall continue until October 30, 2018.

Three bills prefiled by the Ag Land Assessment Task Force

Wheat's grassland © Evgeny Zarzhitsky | Dreamstime.com
Wheat’s grassland © Evgeny Zarzhitsky | Dreamstime.com

I was looking at the bills pre-filed so far for the 2016 South Dakota legislative session and noticed the Ag Land Assessment Task Force has three bills ready to go. I briefly posted about the draft legislation prior to the November 2 Ag Land Assessment Task Force meeting. In this post I will look briefly at the three bills submitted for the 2016 session.

HB 1007 (SoDakLiberty Posts) –Make an appropriation to revise and update the values and methods used to determine the agricultural land production capacity and to declare an emergency.

Here is how this legislation was explained during the December 7 Task Force meeting:

Mr. Baatz stated that the draft proposes a general fund appropriation of $175,000 for the purpose of requesting South Dakota State University’s (SDSU) Department of Economics to conduct research concerning the data and methods used to determine the agricultural land production capacity and update the data used in the soil tables.

There was a lot of support from public testimony for this legislation. Last year this legislation failed on the Senate floor 16-18. That was SB 4 (SoDakLiberty Posts), which asked for $151,000 (although Senate Appropriations reduced it to $1 as they like to do).

SB 3 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Revise the income criteria for determining if property is classified as agricultural land for property tax purposes.

During the November 2 meeting this was said about this legislation:

Senator Larry Tidemann said the goal of the draft bill is to keep ag land in production, and answered questions on the criteria being proposed. Mr. Rhoden said going to a percent of assessed value to satisfy the ag income criteria makes sense and should be further discussed.

During the December 7 meeting Mike Wiese of Aberdeen mentioned concerns about landlord and tenant income in the following test of the proposed legislation:

If there is a crop share arrangement, the gross income of both the landlord and tenant shall be combined and used to meet this criteria.

This legislation I’m not sure about. This legislation didn’t recieve public testimony against it in the task force, but it also didn’t seem to get any public testimony supporting it. I’ll have to listen to the upcoming committee testimony and learn more about the actual changes.

SB 4 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Provide for the assessment of certain agricultural land as noncropland.

The piece of legislation would allow grassland to be treated as noncropland.

The original draft of this legislation included this language to determine the classification the guidelines that must be met:

any agricultural land that has been seeded to grass for at least forty years and is used for animal grazing or left unharvested, or is a native grassland

It was amended in committee to the following:

any agricultural land that has been seeded to perennial vegetation for at least thirty years and is used for animal grazing or left unharvested, or is a native grassland,

Public testimony had shown overall support for the bill, but also possible problems with the forty years and “seeded to grass”. After amendment it seemed to get a lot of support and will now be taken up by the legislature. I’m not so sure about the chances of this bill. It will likely be a hot issue. Personally I am softly opposed to this legislation and will remain so until I hear a real good reason to shift tax burden away from certain farmland and on to other land owners.

Death Penalty repeal forum pt 4: SueZann Bosler

SueZann Bosler speaking in Sioux Falls. Photo by Ken Santema 12/12/15.
SueZann Bosler speaking in Sioux Falls. Photo by Ken Santema 12/12/15.

It is time for part 4 in of a series of blog posts revolving around the Human Face of the Death Penalty forum sponsored by South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.  The previous two posts focused on the stories of Juan Roberto Meléndez-Colón and Shujaa Graham; both of which were wrongly sentenced to the death penalty. This post will focus on the story of SueZann Bosler, a victim survivor that watched her father being murdered before her eyes. She now fights against the death penalty on her father’s behalf.

Here is the full video of SueZann Bosler speaking at the forum. Her story is worth listening to. Below I am going to pull out some brief key parts of Bosler’s story, but I would urge everyone to listen to her story! Bosler puts a perspective on the death penalty I feel is important  for everyone to hear.

The video is just under 30 minutes long. (I apologize for some of the camera work in this video. My good tripod had recently been stolen, and this cheap replacement was just that… cheap!)

Human Face of the Death Penalty

Before writing about Bosler’s story I would like to mention something host Denny Davis says at the beginning of this video. He was talking about the media and others talking about people on death row like they are animals. He goes on to say:

Do these people look like animals. That’s why I wanted to bring you the human face of the death penalty. People who are on death row have a face, they are human beings. They want to live a human life. What does it say about us as a society that don’t give them that chance.

I agree with Davis, most of the time when I’ve discussed the death penalty it seems any talk of death row inmates devolves to talking about a lower life form. Perhaps it makes it easier for some people to accept the death penalty by forgetting these are actual human beings. Yes, many of those on death row did some terrible things to others. But does that mean they are no longer human? And what about the many death row inmates who were later found innocent. Is society to blame for those wrongfully killed by the state?

Key Parts of the Story of SueZann Bosler

SueZann Bosler is what many would call a victim of the death penalty. She had to watch her father, a Brethren minister, be murdered right before her eyes. Yet she does not call herself a victim, instead she prefers the term victim survivor. Bosler also was attacked and left for dead. I won’t go into the details on this part of her story. Instead I would ask everyone to hear it from Bosler’s own mouth in the video above. It is worth hearing.

Earlier in life Bosler remembers having a death penalty talk with her father. Bosler’s father had stated outright that he would not want someone sentenced to the death penalty if he were murdered or killed. Those words stayed with her during the long trial and sentencing phases of the trial. Shen then thought her voice would be listened to during sentencing. But no, she found out that her voice (and really her dads voice through her) would not be listened to. What Bosler found out is that the victims voice was not wanted by the prosecution.

Bosler found a way around not talking about the death penalty during trial by stating part of her job was to advocate against the death penalty. That allowed her to speak out against the death penalty in court as a fact, instead of as an opinion (which she had been warned against in court). The judge then threatened her with jail if she tried an approach like that again. She may have caused the prosecution and judge some heartburn, but she was victorious in keeping someone from getting the death penalty.

SueZann Bosler also spoke briefly about closure. She has seen the term closure used by politicians to make their political points. Bosler said politicians using such talking points were probably trying to get closure for votes. Through her own thought process, Bosler realized that helping the government to murder another person (even if he is a murderer) would also make her a murderer. She refused to accept that outcome. Bosler realized that murder does not cause closure.

SueZann Bosler holding DP card. Photo by Ken Santema 12/12/15.
SueZann Bosler holding an anti-death penalty declaration card. Photo by Ken Santema 12/12/15.

Bosler also mentioned she carries a card on her person at all times letting it be known she is against the death penalty. The card includes a declaration that if something were to ever happen to her that she does not want that person to get the death penalty. She also wears a black band around her wrist all the time that says “there is no such thing as a lesser person”. I think that saying fits in with what Denny Davis was trying to do with this whole event by putting a Human Face to the Death Penalty.

Put in Perspective

Earlier this month I mentioned HB 1158 (SoDakLiberty Posts), which was a bill brought forth by Steve Hickey during the 2015 session to try giving victims a voice in death penalty sentencing. Here is what I said at that time:

Personally I find it almost stunning that the wishes of the victim or the victim’s family would not even be presented during the presentencing hearing. During committee testimony for the bill Hickey had said “The victims voice, I think, is the starting point in the consideration of the sentencing in a death penalty.” He noted the victims wishes do not have to be granted according to the bill he brought forth. All this bill really would have done is let the jury know the wishes of the victim and/or the victim’s family. Allowing this would not necessarily change the outcome. I agree with Hickey that the victims voice should be heard during the hearing and I find it to be an injustice that this doesn’t happen.

Now after hearing SueZann Bosler’s story I feel even more adamant that HB 1158 should have passed. Bosler found herself being treated quiet harshly by the judge and prosecution in the trial of her fathers murderer. They were more than interested in hearing her story when it came to convicting the murderer. Yet when it was time for sentencing they almost treated her like the criminal because she wanted her voice as a victim to be heard. Hopefully a similar bill in the 2016 session can be passed so that all victims can be heard during sentencing; regardless of whether they believe in the death penalty or not.

Final Thoughts

It is hard to imagine what someone such as SueZann Bosler has had to go through. Not only was she attacked and had to watch her father be murdered, but she had to be part of a trial that lasted many years. When it came to sentencing she suddenly found out her words were no longer accepted by the judge or prosecution. That is a situation that must stop. I think no matter what side of the death penalty debate people fall on, they should agree that sentencing would be an appropriate time to hear from the victim’s family.

Next Post

The next post in this series will feature Colby Coash, a Republican Senator from Nebraska. He will share his experience getting the death penalty repealed in Nebraska.