- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Feb. 1, 2014

Legislature must help abuse victims

Some important work is being done by South Dakota legislators this year as they try to better protect victims of domestic violence.

A package of bills, drafted after a summer study of the state’s domestic violence statutes, now is moving through the committee hearing stage in Pierre.

One of the proposed law changes has drawn some media attention. That proposal would expand the definition of those covered under the domestic abuse statutes to include dating couples who do not live together. The law also would be changed to protect pregnant women who do not live with their abusers.

The current law details domestic abuse as “physical harm or attempted harm or the infliction of fear of harm committed by family or household members against spouses, former spouses, relatives, people who live or have lived in the same household or people who have a child together.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved this bill, and it is scheduled for floor debate in coming weeks.

The proposed law doesn’t limit coverage to couples of the opposite sex. An effort last year to provide protections to same-sex couples failed.

But there are several other important domestic violence protection measures to be debated yet this session. Two of the bills attempt to protect minor children when they are involved in or witness domestic abuse.

One would make it a crime to commit certain acts of domestic abuse in the presence of a child, and another would provide for delays in arrest on some outstanding warrants if the person involved is a domestic abuse victim and is the immediate caregiver of a minor child.

Two other measures attempt to better outline and standardize the judicial review process involving lawsuits, complaints and petitions for certain protection orders.

The bills were drafted after a study group of legislators, led by Sioux Falls Sen. Deb Soholt, spent time analyzing existing statutes, listening to testimony from law enforcement officials, abuse counselors, judges and others on the status of domestic violence protections in this state.

This is an important issue for our state. In 2012, seven of the 15 homicides in South Dakota involved domestic abuse, and more than 1,000 domestic abuse assaults were reported in 2013, according to the study group’s report.

The study group took special note of the effects on children who witness domestic abuse. Many states provide extra protection for children in these situations, and the draft bills attempt to do that in South Dakota.

The Legislature is right to focus on the concerns of those who help victims of abuse and prosecute the abusers. These measures are well-researched and reasonable. We urge lawmakers to make them law.

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Madison Daily Leader, Madison, Feb. 4, 2014

Legislative term limits should be extended

South Dakota’s term limits should be extended from 8 years to 12 to allow voters to keep legislators they like.

The state’s constitution limits the number of years a legislator can serve in either the state House or Senate to four two-year terms. After that, a legislator could run for a seat in the opposite chamber or not serve at all.

The constitution was amended in 1992 when there was a wave of term limit proposals on ballots all around the country in an effort to get “new blood” into lawmaking positions.

The 1992 amendment did accelerate turnover in the legislature, but we believe turnover is now too great for effectiveness. In a balance of power with the executive branch, a part-time legislature with eight-year term limits is at a disadvantage.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Feb. 4, 2014

Pot will only add to tribe’s problems

For more than a century, alcohol was illegal on the Pine Ridge Reservation, located in the southwest corner of South Dakota. For most of those years, people of that reservation have fought a difficult battle against alcoholism, and also against alcohol sellers in nearby towns that aren’t on the reservation who were making fortunes by selling beer to reservation residents.

Then, in August, that all changed. The alcohol ban that had been in place for most of the reservation’s 124-year history was lifted.

We don’t argue that alcohol should or shouldn’t have been legal all along on the reservation. We only note the long, hard fight on the reservation regarding alcohol sales and, especially, alcohol abuse.

Now, members of the governing council are considering legalizing marijuana on the reservation. The tribe’s business development committee gave approval last week, and the full council could put it to a public vote.

One year ago, the sale of alcohol was prohibited on the reservation. Now, the reservation is just a step or two away from legalizing marijuana use.

We do not understand the constant urge to legalize pot.

We believe it is a gateway drug. A 2003 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that people who use cannabis by age 17 had odds of other drug use, alcohol dependence and drug abuse/dependence that were 2.1 to 5.2 times higher than those who did not.

We believe it impairs drivers. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, in 2005, stated that “marijuana affects many skills required for safe driving: alertness, the ability to concentrate, coordination and reaction time.”

We don’t believe that its medicinal powers are any greater than existing, legal products. The American Medical Association asserts that there are more effective and better treatments for pain than marijuana.

The Pine Ridge Reservation’s interest in legalizing marijuana is puzzling to us, and especially considering the many social troubles that exist on that reservation and others. Drug use already is a plague on reservations, and introducing pot as a legal product seems detrimental to solving these existing woes.

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