- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Feb. 4, 2016

Why do some elected officials in this state continue to struggle with the concepts of transparency and accountability? Why after declaring their intention to run for public office and then soliciting votes do they decide it is logical to regard the public as an obstacle to effective governing?

Apparently, some local elected officials are not satisfied even though emails sent on government accounts are considered private conversations or that they can go into executive or closed meetings for a variety of reasons and then are not required to disclose what happens there unless they decide to.

Now, we are learning that some local elected bodies apparently are taking it a step further by prohibiting members of the public from recording public meetings held in public places. Apparently, they believe being in absolute control of their meeting is an entitlement they earned when they were elected by the voters, the same people whose trust they sought while on the campaign trail.

As a result, 18 lawmakers - including Sens. Craig Tieszen and Bruce Rampelberg of Rapid City and Reps. Lance Russell of Hill City, Timothy Johns of Lead and Thomas Brunner of Nisland - have co-sponsored Senate Bill 90, which allows the public to use either audio or visual technology to record a public meeting “as long as the recording is reasonable and not disruptive.”

While this legislation does give local elected bodies a little wiggle room to pull the plug on a recording they deem unreasonable, it also puts the burden on them to do so and then convince the other elected officials to agree that the recording is disruptive.

It is unfortunate that we need this sort of legislation in a democracy, but we also know that some elected officials are willing to go to great lengths to conduct as much business as possible away from the critical eye of the public and the media and then deflect blame when someone is unhappy with their decisions. But if that is the case, they should choose not to run for an elected office and pursue other endeavors that can be done in private and with less scrutiny.

The advance of technology allows the public access to meetings that otherwise are difficult to attend for people who are working, raising families and paying their taxes. They, like government, should be entitled to take advantage of technology as a way to become better-informed citizens who can make educated decisions when they cast their votes at the next election.

The lawmakers who co-sponsored this legislation should get the support of the entire Legislature. SB 90 will make our elected officials more accountable and that’s good for South Dakota.


The Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Jan. 30, 2016

South Dakota lawmakers are wading into unforgiving waters.

Issues of sexuality and transgenderism are best not addressed by a majority vote.

Two bills making their way through our Legislature illustrate this point.

The first is a proposal by Rep. Fred Deutsch that would require students to use the bathrooms and lockers rooms of their biological gender. Transgendered students would have to submit a request to school officials if they wanted a separate bathroom.

The second is a measure filed last week by Rep. Roger Hunt requiring student athletes to compete under the gender indicated on a birth certificate or on a physical examination form written by a medical doctor.

Very few of us have a thorough understanding of what it means to be transgendered. Broadly speaking it is defined as person whose sense of who they are is the opposite gender to which they were born. It can lead to hormone treatment or surgery. Or not.

The issue of how public schools and the associated athletics deal with transgender students is complicated by our views of sexuality generally, how it relates - or doesn’t - to homosexuality, and a mind-boggling notion that a teenage boy wants to play on a girls volleyball team.

Which is to say that it is probably not something the South Dakota Legislature is going to resolve.

So in the interest of everybody involved - the administrators and coaches who actually deal with kids every day, the parents of those children and certainly for any child dealing with the complicated emotions of gender identity - just stop.

Reps. Deutsch and Hunt, please pull these bills.

The South Dakota High School Activities Association has already crafted a policy to deal with transgender athletes. It’s a solid plan based on the experiences of other states and the very real consideration of those students’ civil rights under Title IX.

Leave that alone.

When it comes to bathrooms in schools, the system devised by Rep. Deutsch will only serve to marginalize transgender students who already face a difficult path in terms of social acceptance. They already face the prospect of higher rates of suicide and threats of violence. Forcing these students to request separate bathrooms is the equivalent of marking them with a “Scarlet T.”

Don’t do it.

Parents have real and legitimate questions about the atmosphere in the schools. It’s important to have those discussions, for administrators and coaches and parents and students to understand the worries and motivations of everybody involved.

Let’s be honest, however. The numbers are likely to remain manageable. Children in our schools face serious threats from bullies, drugs and alcohol before they ever start tackling the academic challenges of a changing world.

It would seem the potential for the occasional uncomfortable moment in a bathroom is rather deep on the list of a day’s complications.

Each person is unique. Each case has its own circumstances. Every child deserves consideration.

This is not a time for cumbersome bathroom laws set by a majority of state legislators.


The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Jan. 29, 2016

It’s about time some progress has been made to help South Dakota’s ambulance crews.

South Dakota’s senators voted unanimously on Tuesday to soften the state’s standards for ambulance crews because of shortages of emergency responders in many rural areas.

The proposed bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives, allows crews to be operated with an EMT and a trained driver, rather than two EMTs, which is the current requirement.

A lack of fully operational ambulance crews has been an issue for some time in South Dakota, where a good portion of the population lives in rural areas and can be forced to wait too long should a medical emergency arise.

Ambulance crews around the state have held voluntary classes to get those interested in becoming an EMT certified. But becoming an EMT takes a lot of work, and that’s why this proposal is a no-brainer.

Last year, an EMT training class in Corsica consisted of 176 hours inside a classroom and 10 hours observing either advanced life support ambulance services, like Mitchell, or in an emergency room scenario at a hospital. After that, an exam and 24 hours of continuing education every two years was required.

Because it is hard to get people to commit to that much training, many ambulance crews are forced to file for a hardship waiver, which means instead of operating with two certified EMTs at all times, as state law mandates, the exemption allows an ambulance service to operate with one EMT, and a driver who is certified to operate the ambulance but not perform medical care.

According to Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, 33 of the roughly 120 statewide ambulance services are on a hardship exemption. Brown explained that dozens more should be on an exemption.

And while many crews as a whole are struggling, the workload is taking a toll every day on individual EMTs, many of whom work long hours on a volunteer basis and only get paid when they respond to a medical call.

That’s another reason this legislation should pass: We believe it will entice more people to help ambulance crews by becoming a trained driver and, in turn, give more support to the overworked EMTs.

Currently, there’s no formal training requirements to be an ambulance driver. With the proposed bill, ambulance drivers would have to undergo some training, including a required emergency vehicle operation course.

So, this bill is clearly a win-win for EMTs and those in rural areas who need medical services.

There are too few EMTs in South Dakota, so this will at least help give more assistance to those who are on the job.

We hope lawmakers realize the importance of helping our emergency crews in any way possible, and this is a great step to do that.

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