- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, March 28, 2015

City should slow down billboard growth

Blame it on Wall Drug.

Owners of that landmark South Dakota tourism spot have taken billboard advertising to record strata during the past 80-plus years. Their billboards, many lauding free ice water and 5-cent coffee, are situated along roads from Kenya to Amsterdam.

Wall Drug’s billboard story is a proud part of our state’s heritage, and the store’s advertising approach has probably played a key role in spawning hundreds of other highway messages through the decades.

Today, billboard advertising is ubiquitous along South Dakota interstate highways. Those highway messages, seen by thousands of people every day, are effective in attracting travelers to hotels, restaurants, bars and tourist attractions.

But what might be an effective kitschy advertising approach on a lonely South Dakota interstate is really annoying in an urban area.

It’s one thing to see simple Wall Drug billboard messages scattered along the barren stretches of Interstate 90; it’s totally another to have a bright, flashing digital screen screaming restaurant and casino specials out your bedroom window in Sioux Falls.

That’s why the Sioux Falls City Council is right to try to corral the potential spread of billboards into more residential areas.

Full disclosure: Argus Leader Media competes with billboard companies for advertising market share and has purchased billboard advertising. The reason the city should manage the spread of billboards is not because they’re inherently bad. They just shouldn’t be constructed everywhere in the city.

The council is moving to stop any new billboards from going up while the city works through ways to better control their locations and sizes.

The council’s moratorium, if approved in early April, will allow time to refine the billboard approval process that was streamlined under the new Shape Places zoning ordinance.

Shape Places is a worthy, necessary reworking of city zoning, making it easier for businesses and developers to navigate processes with their building ideas and plans.

But some components of it, like the billboard allowances and approval processes, will need to be tweaked. That’s what the City Council is doing.

Among the limits they’re looking at:

- Where the boards can be placed, setting a 25,000-square-foot building limitation.

- Requiring a minimum distance from single-family homes.

- Not allowing them near churches, schools, parks and day cares.

- And restricting how close they can be to one another.

The council is smart to give additional thought to the process for erecting billboards in the city.

Residents should use the time as an opportunity for input and to discuss their concerns with council members.

Over time, we believe a compromise is achievable.


Capital Journal, Pierre, March 31, 2015

Speed limit change sped way too fast through the SD Legislature

The speed on South Dakota interstates jumps to 80 mph today, making South Dakota only the fifth state to allow speeds that high.

Whether you like the change or not, you should be concerned about the hot-rod fashion in which this change rocketed through the South Dakota Legislature - not as a regular bill that would have gone through the committee process that allows the public a chance to testify, but as an amendment offered at the last moment on a big bill to fund roads and bridges.

Does increasing the speed limit really have much relation to funding roads and bridges? Only in the sense that letting motorists drive a little faster means they will burn more fuel and pay more in gas taxes, perhaps. But the fact is, that addition to the bill took the public by surprise and appeared to surprise lawmakers, too.

That’s no way to make a change that could lead to more fatalities on South Dakota roads.

At the very least, South Dakotans should have been given ample time to comment and perhaps fine-tune the proposal. Should we be concerned about revelations from tire companies that some truck tires aren’t designed for such high speeds? Should we also have increased South Dakota’s minimum speed of 40 mph on the interstates? Should we have discussed what South Dakota stands to gain from this change, besides increased risk to life and limb? All good questions we might have considered.

It was the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives who engineered this amendment, we’re told. What do House Republican leaders dislike about the usual process of making a change of this magnitude, we wonder? Instead, as the Rapid City Journal reported, this amendment was discussed for a mere 90 seconds before it was added to the highway bill during a March 9 meeting of the House State Affairs Committee.

That should make all of us lean on the brakes. The Capital Journal is not for or against the higher speed limit; what we are for is the process that we have followed for generations for initiating major changes in state policy. Conservatives, of all people, ought to conserve that. And that is what our House Republican leadership left in the dust in the haste to hoist the speed limit.

Unlike Wyoming, which proposed increasing its speed limit as a regular bill, studied the issue, and took testimony, South Dakota did nothing of the kind. There was no opportunity to study the matter. Without a doubt, the new speed limit will be a contributing factor to some accidents on South Dakota’s interstates from this day forward, and very possibly South Dakota might end up doing what Wyoming did with more forethought - deciding that the new speed limit is not appropriate on some stretches of its interstates.

We like the way Wyoming did it.

We don’t like the way South Dakota did it.

We have the legislative process that we have for a reason. We should have followed it here.


Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, March 31, 2015

Indiana’s law: A fire of the moment?

The mushrooming controversy surrounding Indiana’s religious freedom law right now could have theoretically been South Dakota’s fate last year had our legislators given their approval to a similar measure.

We have no way of knowing this, but the best guess is that such a decision here probably wouldn’t have sparked the same angry firestorm that is engulfing Indiana currently.

Our state lawmakers killed a bill which would have created a legal excuse to effectively allow discrimination against, for instance, a same-sex couple wishing to purchase a wedding cake from a baker who was not real supportive of that lifestyle. While the measure didn’t specify which group(s) could be impacted by the religious judgments of others, the bill - in root terms - had one group in mind with one purpose in mind: to legally maintain a second-class citizenry.

Frankly, it was an unfortunate piece of legislation and was wisely defeated.

Indiana has not been so wise - or lucky.

Critics of the measure say Indiana’s law is slightly different from similar laws that 19 states already have in place, or from the much narrower federal law it avers to copy. According to The Atlantic, the Indiana law allows “any for-profit business to assert a right to ‘the free exercise of religion,’” Other language seems to legally equate a for-profit business with a church organization, which can cite its religious convictions on rather obvious grounds. (It still sounds a lot like the South Dakota proposal to us.)

A decade ago, such a law would have been called a “values” issue and probably would have drawn far less overall attention.

But these are different times, and ours is a different world.

However, because South Dakota went through a very similar debate recently, the current outcry over Indiana’s law seems somewhat overheated. This law is, broadly speaking, a variation from other laws on the books elsewhere. The analyses into why it’s different - and therefore more dangerous - dig into subtle alterations in legislative wording, which, while not unimportant, is the kind of thing that normally doesn’t excite and motivate the public in general to this extent.

Instead, this law seems to have arrived at a pivotal moment in the evolution of the same-sex rights issue and in the argument over religious freedom in America. It draws a line in the sand that’s been drawn before, but this time, the pushback has been far more vigorous, the consequences of which were clearly underestimated by those who conceived of this legislation.

Thus, what’s happening in Indiana may be more about a new social status quo and serve as a new litmus test for human rights, personal dignity and/or religious liberty.

How it ends will be important. But one has to worry that the road is going to get a lot bumpier and angrier before it ever soothes over.

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