- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - At least three of South Dakota’s 105 legislators have interests in state contracts and may be violating the state’s conflict of interest laws, according to a new report from the state’s largest newspaper.

The Argus Leader reported (https://argusne.ws/1l0AlWg ) Monday that some legislators may be violating the state constitution despite a state law that prohibits lawmakers from having a direct or indirect interest in contracts with a South Dakota county or the state.

Legislators voted to amend conflict of interest laws last year for state employees, but exempted lawmakers because they believed they were already covered under existing law.

Sen. Blake Curd, an owner of Sioux Falls Specialty Hospital, is one of the legislators named. The hospital won a contract in 2014 to provide certain health care procedures to state employees.

In an email response, the Republican senator told the newspaper he wasn’t involved in contract negotiations.

“I am not sure of the exact time frame of these negotiations, but it was well before I became the CEO and possibly before I was appointed as a state senator,” he said. “The contract was never enforced to the benefit of the hospital for a variety of reasons.”

Curd added that the contract was negotiated by the Bureau of Personnel and was never explicitly authorized by the Legislature.

But funding for the contract was included in the general appropriations bill enacted by the Legislature, the newspaper said. The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that contracts funded from the general appropriations bill still constitute a conflict.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said it’s up to the Legislature to determine the qualifications of its members and that it’s “not really my call” when it comes to conflicts of interest.

In its report, the newspaper also listed state Sen. Alan Solano and Rep. Fred Romkema, both of whom have worked for nonprofits that have received state funding.

Solano, a Republican who was appointed by Daugaard in 2014, has signed contracts with the state as CEO of Behavior Management Systems. Solano said he told the governor about his situation before the appointment and it wasn’t considered a conflict.

“I have no financial interest in the organization,” he said.

In the past 3 years, Behavior Management Systems received more than $7.5 million in state money, according to state records.

Romkema, a Republican representative from Spearfish, is the former CEO of Northern Hills Training Center. The nonprofit human services organization received $300,000 in state money in the last three years, including during the time Romkema headed the organization.

Romkema did not immediately return a call to the Argus Leader or The Associated Press.

Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s chief of staff, said there’s a distinction between people working for nonprofits that get a state contract and owners of businesses that get contracts.

“That is always the position that we have taken - that an employee of an entity does not have an interest in a contract held by the entity,” Venhuizen said.


Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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