- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, March 15, 2014

E-cigarettes should be illegal for minors

It took a long time for South Dakota to join the battle against smoking, but finally, we did. And the state’s voters backed the smoking ban in a convincing manner when asked to vote on it.

That’s one reason it’s encouraging that lawmakers are trying to get in front of potential problems with the growing use of e-cigarettes. The legislature passed a law banning the sale of the devices to minors.

The measure is awaiting Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s signature.

E-cigarettes are devices that provide a vapor from a nicotine solution. A user inhales the vapor. Use of e-cigarettes is growing, and some portray them as a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes.

But the federal government does not regulate e-cigarettes, and much is still unknown about the potential long-range health effects of the devices. Until that changes, it’s wise to prohibit their sale to young people.

The South Dakota Retailers Association supported the measure after consulting with lawmakers to ensure that there was a single set of statewide regulations, not individual city rules on how to display and sell the items.

Health organizations including the American Cancer Society, the state Medical Association and the Department of Health also supported the restrictions, as did officials from the Attorney General’s office.

Preventing the use of tobacco by young people is an ongoing challenge. The American Cancer Society surveyed middle and high school students and found that the number who said they had smoked an e-cigarette in the past month doubled from 2011 to 2012.

Many of the students in that survey also said they had smoked regular cigarettes.

That’s what health officials and others fear - the vapor inhalers could lead to harmful cigarette smoking, particularly among teenagers.

The South Dakota Legislature did the right thing in restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

Gov. Daugaard should sign the measure into law.


Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, March 18, 2014

We still need sunshine week

This is Sunshine Week, which is usually described as an annual celebration of open government and the public’s right to know what its lawmakers are doing.

But in fact, it’s also a warning.

As Americans, we pride ourselves on being blessed with a “government of the people,” but we also know that keeping it that way is a never-ending task. We have learned too often that our government will invariably close itself off from the people it serves unless there is constant vigilance on the part of the public and the media.

Americans were reminded of that once more this week, for instance, when The Associated Press reported that the Obama administration, despite all its lofty promises coming in of being the most transparent presidency ever, is anything but. An AP survey has determined that this administration has grown more secretive with each passing year, showing a consistent unwillingness to permit access to government files via the Freedom of Information Act and slow response times among agencies to answer requests for information.

In other words, we are seeing increased translucency, not greater transparency, as part of a growing culture of inaccessibility and more closed doors, not more open avenues.

Unfortunately, such behavior from an elected official is not an anomaly. Many government entities at various levels often fight to hold off or tuck away information that belongs to the people. (And, to be honest, when is the last time you heard a candidate for office promise less transparency in government?)

Sometimes, the potential problems can be systemic in nature.

In South Dakota, The Associated Press reported Monday about the existence in Pierre of what are called “vehicle bills,” which could be described as empty shells of legislation that could be used to revive or introduce new measures down the line - and sometimes with little notice of public input.

The AP cited the example of a vague medical bill introduced in January that was tied to a possible compromise on Medicaid expansion. It was later used by another lawmaker to create a measure calling for a task force to study autism. The change came about with little warning and virtually no public input.

The intentions of such legislation may be noble in the long run, as state Sen. Bernie Hunhoff noted.

However, intentions can also be hijacked and lured in other directions.

It’s things like this that Sunshine Week is all about. In fact, it must be.

This week serves as a reminder that we must always be watchful of how our governing bodies and officials work. It’s a system of checks and balances - something in which the media play an indispensable role, but it’s also up to the public to demand answers, to want to know, to simply care.

Sunshine Week, then, is about caring. And as long as we care enough to demand to know what our lawmakers are doing, America will be sound.

We need the sunshine, you see, because our democracy cannot truly survive without it.


Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, March 19, 2014

Teacher raise small, but welcome

The 2014 Legislature ended its regular session on Friday - except for veto day on March 31 - with a flurry of last-minute bills and passing a $4.3 billion budget.

The budget does not include an expansion of Medicaid as called for by Democrats, but it does include a little extra money for public schools - $2.2 million that lawmakers directed toward increasing teachers’ salaries. The extra $16.72 in per-student funding is enough to give each of the state’s approximately 10,000 teachers a $230 raise next year. It’s not a lot, but it’s an attempt by lawmakers to respond to media reports, including the Journal, that South Dakota’s teachers are the lowest paid in the nation.

The budget also increases funding to the state’s technical schools by about 3.4 percent that will help them compete with tech schools in neighboring states that have lower tuition rates.

And while proposals to expand Medicaid was rejected, lawmakers agreed to add $800,000 in state funds and $620,000 in federal money for nursing homes, mental health centers and other health facilities that receive Medicaid funding to provide care to the poor.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed to use one-time revenues to pay off the state’s debt. The budget reduces the state’s debt obligations by about 20 percent, which the governor said would free up money in future years for education and other priorities.

During the session, the Journal editorial board weighed in on legislation that we believed should be passed or rejected by state lawmakers, including:

- Teacher pay: We editorialized at the start of the legislative session for an increase in teachers’ salaries. On the session’s last day, lawmakers agreed to a modest $2.2 million to be directed toward teacher compensation.

- Common Core: At least seven bills were introduced this year to study, modify or repeal Common Core, the new teaching standards for math and English. We urged lawmakers to leave Common Core alone, and every bill but Senate Bill 64, which calls for a waiting period for new teaching standards, failed.

- Police logs: We supported a bill sponsored by Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, that specifies that police logs are public records. SB 85 was passed with the approval of most law enforcement officials, including Rapid City Police Department Chief Steve Allender, who gratefully testified on its behalf.

- Explosive targets: HB 1129, which bans the use of exploding targets in the Black Hills Fire Protection District, was passed.

- Texting ban: A bill to ban texting while driving was passed on the next-to-last day, after extensive debate and compromise over the law’s language. The measure makes texting while driving a petty offense with a $100 fine that drivers can only be ticketed for if they were stopped for another offense. We support a texting ban, if only to deter law-abiding South Dakotans from texting behind the wheel.

- Animal cruelty: South Dakota no longer is the only state in the nation without a felony charge of animal cruelty after passage of SB 46.

- Pledge of Allegiance: Next school year, public school students will begin their day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or respectfully remain silent during the pledge.

- Guns: There were a number of bills introduced concerning the right to own a gun. We supported HB 1229, which would prevent individuals determined to be mentally ill from buying a gun. The Legislature agreed to the common sense restriction to the Second Amendment.

- Deadwood gaming: We supported bills designed to help the Deadwood gaming industry succeed in the face of national competition. Voters will decide on a constitutional amendment that would allow roulette, keno and craps at Deadwood casinos. Bills to allow 24-hour alcohol sales and a higher room tax failed.

- Video lottery: We supported a bill to allow more machines at video lottery casinos, but lawmakers rejected the measure.

During the last nine weeks, legislators introduced, held hearings, debated and voted on 449 bills, 10 joint resolutions, 39 concurrent resolutions and 96 commemorations. Many did not last beyond the first day, but the laws and resolutions that were passed will, hopefully, improve the lives of all South Dakotans.

Overall, we are pleased with the work lawmakers did during this legislative session.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide