- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Feb. 15, 2014

Stop playing politics with texting ban

If the South Dakota Legislature really is concerned about safety and thinks a ban on texting while driving will help keep residents safe, then the law should have some teeth.

Police should be able to ticket a person caught texting while driving without waiting for that driver to commit another offense or become involved in an accident.

That’s how it is in Sioux Falls and some other cities that have passed their own texting bans in recent years. Here, a driver caught texting can be fined. He or she need not be doing anything else wrong to get a ticket.

It’s important to note that the cities approved bans after it was quite clear that the state Legislature wouldn’t do it. Lawmakers have defeated efforts in recent years to implement any kind of statewide texting ban.

It doesn’t seem as if they’re really interested in passing a useful ban this year, either.

In fact, their discussion on the topic first involved a bill to prohibit local governments from enacting any laws on texting and driving. That has morphed into a bill that would make it a punishable offense only if a driver committed another traffic offense. And they have resisted efforts to allow those cities and counties who already have enacted tougher bans to continue to enforce their ordinances.

The only explanation for this activity is political. The legislators involved want to make sure that cities don’t pass their own texting bans.

It’s about the state asserting total control over traffic regulations.

It’s not really about safe driving.

Today, despite pushes by law enforcement officials to make the proposed ban tougher, legislators such as Rep. Brian Gosch of Rapid City are pushing the lesser measure through. Texting while driving would become a secondary offense.

If indeed the legislators supporting this ban are concerned about public safety and if indeed they want to standardize the regulations across the state, then why not just implement the same ban that some cities already have in place? Or at least grandfather in their existing texting bans.

Safety on the streets and highways should be a priority for lawmakers. City leaders across the state have made it a priority in their areas.

But this legislative effort flies in the face of local control and violates the spirit of home rule charters.

The state should stop playing politics with the ban on texting and either implement the tougher standards now in place in cities such as Sioux Falls or continue to stay on the sidelines.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Feb. 18, 2014

Animal cruelty law good compromise

Efforts at increasing the punishment for mistreating animals have failed in the Legislature over the years. While every other state in the nation has made animal cruelty a felony, in South Dakota, intentional cruelty to animals remains a misdemeanor.

That may change this year, as Senate Bill 46, which would make cruelty to animals a felony, passed the Senate last week on a unanimous vote.

That’s a significant change from last year when a similar bill was defeated in committee because of fears that it could affect the livestock industry. SB 46 was written with cooperation of livestock producers and animal welfare groups.

The bill would make it a felony to commit malicious or intentional acts of abuse that cause prolonged pain, serious physical injury or death of an animal.

Animals that are under the care of veterinarians or raised by livestock producers engaged in “standard and accepted” practices are not considered mistreated. The bill also exempts hunting, fishing, pest control or “any reasonable action” taken against a dangerous or threatening animal.

The neglect, abandonment or mistreatment of an animal would remain a misdemeanor offence.

The bill also expands the crime of dog fighting to include prohibiting the fighting of all animals, and it would make it a misdemeanor to be a spectator at an animal fight. This would close the loophole that allows cockfighting or other staged animal fighting.

It has long been recognized that South Dakota’s laws against cruelty to animals are too weak when compared with animal cruelty laws in other states. Making the intentional abuse of animals a felony while protecting “standard and accepted” livestock-raising practices is a good compromise.

We urge the passage of SB 46 to end South Dakota’s embarrassing status as the only state without a felony animal cruelty law.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Feb. 17, 2014

Important for restaurant scores to be accessible

A great thing has happened in South Dakota, and one that is benefiting all.

Of course, that all depends upon the point of view of the reader, but we understand that some surely will disagree.

We’re talking about the state’s online posting of restaurant scores. Just a few years ago, this wasn’t happening, and that meant restaurant patrons had no real idea what they were getting into when they chose to dine out.

Back in 2012, the state finally began regularly posting restaurant scores online. Before that, it took great effort to find which restaurants were struggling to keep the promises they have made with their customers.

Saturday, we published our annual report card on local restaurants. Through the state’s website (doh.sd.gov), we learned that generally, Mitchell restaurants are abiding by state laws that govern cleanliness and rules about food safety.

A few didn’t do so well, and we reported it. One restaurant that flunked inspections was kind enough to allow us to interview its manager, and we feel that was a wise decision. We were doing the story anyway, and it’s in the best interest of offending restaurants to tell their side of the story. Good for them.

And in the end, good for you, readers. Whether or not The Daily Republic continues its annual report card in the future, you now have the ability to instantly check your favorite restaurant’s yearly health scores.

We felt the state took too long to finally arrive at this place, and we have said so many times. That’s in the past, and things are better now, both for consumers and even the restaurants themselves.

Consumers deserve to know the eateries that fail parts of all of their health inspections. In the past, a restaurant that fails may have been shut down by the state, but with no word to past, present and future patrons. That’s gross.

Too, local restaurants should be excited about this new system. The restaurants that routinely pass their inspections deserve to have their exceptional scores posted. Only those who aren’t living up to our trust should be worried.

And we once again feel it important to note that just because a restaurant struggled on a report card does not necessarily mean that establishment isn’t safe or isn’t trying its best. Health standards are very rigid, and sometimes poor scores can be traced to very minor troubles.

Use your own judgment, and be happy the state has given you the tools to do so.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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