Lawmakers may study sex abuse, tribal economics

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota lawmakers have passed bills creating three task forces this year instead of relying on the legislative executive board to set up summer studies.

The Legislature's executive board typically picks topics to study over the summer after the session ends. But legislators this year passed measures establishing a few studies rather than risk their topic being overlooked.

Two studies likely to be covered by the Legislature are on child sexual abuse and economic development within tribes. A third proposal to study autism may be taken over by the governor’s office if it’s signed into law.

State Sen. Ryan Maher, chair of the executive board, said the board has the funding for two more studies. Individuals and committees can contribute ideas to a list, and each legislator can rank his or her preferences. Maher said that will take place in the second half of April.

Rep. Don Haggar sponsored the provision to study and promote economic development among the tribes. Haggar said rather than conduct a study with legislators hearing testimony from tribal members, the bill sets up a task force that includes members of the governor’s office and tribal leadership.

“Although that difference is subtle it’s significant, because it sends a message to the tribes that we want to be equal players,” the Sioux Falls Republican said.

His provision also adds tribes to the list of groups, among cities and counties, that can receive economic development grants from the state. The bill was approved by the Legislature with nearly unanimous support, but it has not yet been signed by the governor.

He said the topic has not been studied since the 1970s. He said Native American unemployment and poverty rates are significant problems that the state wants to help address, but he’s not sure what the outcome will be.

“The state is not going to dictate to the different tribes what to do,” he said.

Sen. Deb Soholt initiated another study that has already been approved by the governor, Jolene’s Law Task Force. She had been looking to propose legislation to address child sexual abuse.

“I came to understand that we didn’t know what we need to do. And so that was the genesis of Jolene’s Law task force, to bring professionals together,” Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, said.

The task force is named “Jolene’s Law Task Force,” but the state has not yet passed Jolene’s Law. The task force is named after Jolene Loetscher who has shared her story of sexual abuse as a child in an attempt to address the problem.

“I honestly imagine throughout our work that we will end up with statute that we need to bring forward and that will be an extension of naming it after our own citizen that’s willing to put a face to this,” Soholt said.

Last year’s studies on domestic abuse and school funding led to multiple new laws and impacted the amount of money allocated to education in the annual budget.

Maher said some lawmakers are lobbying this year for a three-tiered review of the alcohol industry in the state, looking at manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. Another lawmaker has suggested studying social and financial effects of gambling.

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