- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Dec. 5

Obamacare and the next chapter

It’s quite clear that the Donald Trump era in the White House will likely begin with the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), now known as Obamacare, high up on the to-do list.

What’s far less known is what will happen after that.

According to The New York Times, it appears the “repeal and replace” mantra that’s been used among many Republicans to target the ACA may be replaced by “appeal and delay,” for no one has really coalesced around an actual alternate proposal.

If any alternative appears to be taking shape, it may come with the naming of Rep. Tom Price as secretary of Health and Human Services. Price is a fierce Obamacare critic and one of the very few lawmakers who has actually proposed any kind of alternative. According to Forbes.com, Price is seeking to implement a more consumer-driven system by offering tax credits to those without employer coverage, state block grants for high-risk pools that would include people with pre-existing conditions, and health savings accounts. It would also do away with Medicaid, which covers an estimated 12 million low-income Americans.

Trump’s victory last month was a surprise in almost all quarters, including congressional Republicans, who suddenly have a promise to live up to with their vow to kill Obamacare. Now, reports suggest that several lawmakers want to drag out the repeal over two or three years, giving Republicans more time to come up with an acceptable alternative. Obamacare has insured more than 20 million people, and pulling that insurance from them would be impractical - not to mention devastating. Also, insurance companies have configured their businesses around the ACA, and scrapping that could be economically disastrous. Why ACA opponents haven’t come up with something more concrete and universally embraced as an alternative after all this time - other than declaring “no” to health care reform - is frustrating and suggests some serious political shortsightedness. But the looming prospect now demands a commitment.

Also, there has been talk of tying the privatization of Medicare to the Obamacare repeal. That’s not going to sit well with a lot of people, which may be another reason for the delay. Such an effort is going to be politically dicey, and a lot of GOP lawmakers know it. Medicare is very popular, and even suggesting that it should be put in private hands - that is, force senior citizens to purchase private health insurance from companies that won’t be real eager to sell insurance to a high-risk demographic - is playing with fire. (In assessing the proposals and ramifications, Forbes contributor John Wasik noted Monday, “… Medicare needs a massive overhaul of its fee-for-service model and that is being done through Obamacare. But amputating all of the patient’s extremities, then giving him a cane, is not a sound approach.”)

All this comes in the face of apparent growing public uncertainty about repealing ACA. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week showed that just 26 percent of Americans favor a full repeal of Obamacare, with 17 percent wanting to see it scaled back. Meanwhile, 30 percent want the law expanded and 19 percent want to see it remain as is. Also, the poll showed than just 52 percent of Republicans want to scrap the law, down from 69 percent in October when such an opportunity seemed realistically remote.

Obamacare has several problems and even its proponents say it needs fixing. Frankly, fixing the mechanism that’s in place would be more efficient than tearing it all out and putting in something else, but that’s not going to fly in the early days of the new administration.

However, this has to be about more than political agendas: It must about the health and welfare of the American people. We could go back to the way it was before 2010 and before ACA was enacted, but there were painfully compelling reasons why universal health care (or something close to it) had been seen by some as a need for decades. We can repeal or change systems, but we can’t escape that reality.


Rapid City Journal, Dec. 5

Lawmakers should fix, not fight, IM 22

If one didn’t know better, you would think the state’s legislative and executive branches are on the verge of collapse due to the passage of Initiated Measure 22, which 180,580 South Dakotans voted for on Nov. 8.

Almost immediately after voters approved the Anti-Corruption Act, the Republican Party considered calling a rare special session to invalidate it. But that idea was rejected in favor of lawsuit that has the potential to be costly for the state’s taxpayers.

Twenty four members of the Legislature, including Sens. Terri Haverly and Phil Jensen of Rapid City, and the Family Heritage Alliance Action lobbying organization have filed suit in a bid to have the measure declared unconstitutional.

The new law is lengthy, complicated and certainly can be improved upon. Its intent, however, is clear: Voters want lobbyists and lawmakers held to a higher standard of accountability.

IM 22 aims to reform South Dakota’s campaign finance and lobbying laws, which are considered among the weakest and least transparent in the nation. In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity rated the state 47th in the nation in government transparency and accountability.

In that report, South Dakota state government received failing grades in nine of 13 categories, including lobbying disclosure. In a story by Seth Tupper of the Rapid City Journal, it was reported that lobbyists are only required to disclose their name and employer. They do not have to report how much they spend on gifts, meals and entertainment for the lawmakers they court on behalf of their clients - and they don’t.

In that story, Tony Venhuizen, chief of staff for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, dismissed the report by saying, “According to Gallup, South Dakotans’ trust in their state government is among the highest in the nation. That’s why our state hasn’t enacted these measures.”

Since then, state residents have continued to watch two scandals unfold involving millions of dollars - EB-5 and Gear-Up - that certainly played a role in the passage of IM 22.

Republicans who filed the lawsuit seem to be especially concerned about the $100 annual limit on gifts that lawmakers and state officials can receive from those who hire lobbyists, even citing concerns about attending dinners or banquets they have went to in the past. Lawmakers like Senate Republican Leader Blake Curd of Sioux Falls who are employed by companies that hire lobbyists say they may have to resign from the Legislature since they are paid more than a $100 a year by those same employers.

The measure also calls for an independent ethics commission and publicly-funded Democracy Credits, which voters can use to make campaign contributions to candidates who agree to eligibility requirements. The Republicans also oppose these parts of the measure.

But instead of taking this to court and putting the onus on a judge to resolve the matter, the Legislature should work on improving or adding clarity to the measure in the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

IM 22’s proponents have said they are willing to work with the Legislature to improve the new state law. The GOP, however, appears intent on gutting the entire measure and as quickly as possible.

Challenging this measure in the courts will almost certainly be costly to taxpayers. While the lawmakers who have filed the lawsuit won’t say who is paying their legal fees, it will be taxpayers paying to defend the measure as Attorney General Marty Jackley is required by law to represent the voters in a case that could languish in the courts for years.

A measure that requires lobbyists to report expenditures, caps gifts to lawmakers, puts limits on campaign contributions, dedicates a small amount of public funds to candidates, and creates an ethics commission will not topple state government or render the Legislature ineffective. It will, however, change the culture and how business is conducted.

If the Republican Party leadership ignores the will of the voters with its court case and dismisses the intent of Initiated Measure 22, it will resurrect the same questions that led to its passage in the first place.


Capital Journal, Dec. 2

Unintended consequence or not, Marsy’s Law is dismantling the public’s right to know about crime

The state’s law enforcement community is using the recently passed Marsy’s Law to deny access to what is and always has been, public information.

Marsy’s Law was billed as a way to give crime victims a bigger say in the criminal justice system. Throughout the 2016 campaign season, South Dakotans were bombarded with advertisements filled with heart wrenching stories from those who first had suffered at the hands of criminals and then been failed by the criminal justice system.

Constitutional Amendment S, as Marsy’s Law appeared on the South Dakota ballot, would enshrine crime victims’ right to privacy, right to prevent the distribution of some information about them and the right to be informed of the disposition of their case.

Many other rights are included in the amendment but at issue today is paragraph 5. It reads; “The right to prevent disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information about the victim, and to be notified of any request of such information or records.”

Many, if not most, of the state’s law enforcement agencies - including both the Pierre Police Department and the Stanley County Sheriff’s Office - have so far interpreted paragraph 5 to mean they can’t share even approximate locations of any of the crimes or traffic accidents they investigate.

Jason Glodt, who was the chief proponent of Marsy’s Law in South Dakota, has been quoted numerous times in this newspaper and others as saying law enforcement is being a little conservative in their interpretation of the law.

Glodt says Marsy’s Law doesn’t bar law enforcement from releasing details on crimes unless a victim tells police not to release the information. It certainly doesn’t bar police from releasing specific location information about traffic accidents or drug offenses, he says

Still, paragraph 5 is sowing confusion among the local law enforcers who are tasked with sharing information about the public’s safety.

For example, a man by the name of Todd Jones was arrested in Pierre at about 5 a.m. Dec. 1 for false imprisonment. A police spokesman was able to tell reporters that alcohol was a factor in the incident but as to whether a weapon was involved, how many victims there were and whether it happened in your neighborhood, the spokesman wouldn’t say. He didn’t know what he could or could not say under Marsy’s Law.

The ramifications the spokesman or the Pierre Police Department could face for releasing basic details about a case are unclear. But they’re scary enough that the police aren’t willing to risk sharing some of the most basic information about crime within our community. Even if it’s information that anyone with a police scanner already has.

We don’t blame our local police and sheriffs for being cautious. They are, after all, simply following the example set by state law enforcement and public safety officials who have closed access to state reportable accident reports and quit telling the public about who was killed in fatal highway accidents.

Local officials probably don’t want to be sued for failing to uphold somebody’s constitutional rights either. The definition of victim contained in Marsy’s Law is broad enough that it might be hard to know just who police now have to inform that they have victim’s rights now. All it takes is one lawyer who thinks they can make a case and taxpayers are potentially on the hook for thousands of dollars win or lose.

South Dakota’s reaction to Marsy’s Law is unique but only insofar as it is the first of three states in the region to be faced with it’s effects. Voters in North Dakota and Montana passed versions of the law as well but it hasn’t gone into effect yet.

Montana’s canvassing board had, as of Dec. 1, failed to certify the Nov. 8 election results for their state’s version of Marsy’s Law. Two members of the three-member board are concerned about the law taking effect immediately, according to multiple news reports.

North Dakota’s version of Marsy’s Law takes effect Dec. 8.

We’re not exactly surprised at how South Dakota has reacted to Marsy’s Law, however. Our state has, at best, a tepid relationship with openness. This is especially true when it comes to criminal justice. The public has never had guaranteed access to police reports, for example.

The state’s repeated low ratings from government transparency organizations such as the Center for Public Integrity, also are evidence of South Dakota’s resistance to openness.

That some South Dakota leaders would use Marsy’s Law as an excuse to release less information than they already do is par for the course.

We find it hard to believe that Marsy’s Law supporters didn’t see at least some of this coming, given South Dakota’s record on government transparency.

All laws are open to interpretation. So when a law extends new rights to everyone from a crime victim’s first cousin to a multinational corporation, it makes sense that a state already unreasonably concerned with keeping things secret would err on the side of more secrecy given the chance.

Not sharing basic information about crime doesn’t help anyone. Secrecy erodes the trust between communities and police. It prevents communities from recognizing dangerous trends and from holding their police officers accountable when mistakes are made.

We hope our state law enforcement community comes to their senses and goes back to releasing accident reports and the locations of crimes.

A task force convened by Attorney General Marty Jackley will be meeting today to try and figure out what to do about Marsy’s Law going forward. The group will include supporters of the law, law enforcement officials and representatives of the South Dakota Newspaper Association

It’s an excellent chance to provide some clarity and start rolling back some of the damage that’s been done to the public’s right to know. The sooner this happens the better.

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