- Associated Press - Thursday, January 25, 2018

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Jan. 19

Allow craft brewers to let their business flow

There are a flurry of proposed changes and updates to South Dakota liquor laws that will be debated this legislative session, and at least one seems like a simple and needed fix: the outdated and prohibitive limits on beer production.

Many of our state’s craft brewers object to the arbitrary 5,000-barrels-a-year ceiling and want lawmakers to raise their allowable production cap.

And why wouldn’t they? These are businesses, after all. And we live in a pro-business state. One that also happens to have what is becoming an annual tax revenue shortfall. Our state is missing an opportunity to take its “experience economy” up a notch.

Reduced wild game populations and other tourism challenges should push us to find other smart revenue-builders. Our fast-growing brewery scene is ripe for the support.

A recent trip to Montana, where microbreweries have become tourism hotspots, inspired Governor Dennis Daugaard’s effort to create more growth opportunities for South Dakota’s burgeoning small brewers.

Among multiple possible bills to amend standing law - including two from the Department of Revenue and one directly from the governor’s office - are provisions to allow microbreweries to produce up to six times the current number of barrels while keeping their taprooms open and maintaining their option to sell wine and cider with a license.

Ready to grow, South Dakota craft brewers back alcohol law overhaul

“Everybody’s doing it” isn’t necessarily a sound justification for policy change, but current state law puts our brewers at a distinct disadvantage compared to our neighbors. Minnesota and Nebraska’s barrel limits for smaller brewers stand at 20,000. Iowa sets no cap.

And in our seven-state border region, only South Dakota and Nebraska forbid small breweries from self-distributing without a wholesaler middleman.

As South Dakota faces continued budget shortfalls, the economic impact other states can attribute to craft breweries (and their growing younger consumer demographic) looks enticing.

Not everyone is rooting for upstarts such as Fernson Brewing in Sioux Falls or Spearfish’s Crow Peak to shed their shackles. Opposing interests, specifically distributors and their lobbies, will play a large part in whether these bills advance to become signed law or sink to 41st-day oblivion.

South Dakota’s current three-tiered system of alcohol distribution - manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer - was mandated post-Prohibition. Inserting protective layers between distillers and consumers was intended to cut back on intemperate overindulgence by limiting large brewers’ control of the market.

Over time, however, some distributors have essentially become extensions of the largest manufacturers. While these distributors can help craft brewers get their products onto retailers’ shelves, they can likewise be a barrier and a cost that some small businesses might be hard-pressed to absorb.

Consider also that large breweries are developing products meant to directly compete with craft beers. Several registered lobbyists in Pierre list out-of-state behemoths like MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch Companies as employers.

More recent additions to the lobbying directory: Fernson Brewing and the South Dakota Craft Brewers Guild, looking to exert their own influence in the capitol.

For states like South Dakota with part-time lawmakers who have minimal staff, lobbyists are a tempting and omnipresent source of topical expertise.

Stakeholders also occupy legislative seats. District 12 Representative Arch Beal and first-term District 13 Senator Jack Kolbeck, both of Beal Distributing, sit on Commerce and Energy committees. The House committee is currently considering the proposed liquor law reforms.

Without recusal requirements to keep legislators from voting on policy that directly affects their business or industry, bad optics at the very least are the result. These conflicts of interest are in no way confined to members employed in the alcoholic beverage industry, but consider this issue a timely microcosm.

With multiple proposals on tap, the battles have just begun.


The Daily Leader, Madison, Jan. 24

Mad Labs will be an exciting project

The MadLabs building project on the Dakota State University campus is taking more steps forward this week, and we expect to see construction begin in earnest soon.

As of today, there appears nothing different about the southwest corner of campus. Lowry Hall, completed in 1959 as a men’s dormitory, and the area around it looks virtually the same as it has for decades.

(A quick side note: That quiet portion of campus was once even quieter, as it was once a rarely-used sloped, outdoor amphitheater surrounded by trees and shrubs.)

Before the current session of the Legislature is a bill that authorizes the destruction of Lowry Hall and the construction of MadLabs. It has passed the joint appropriations committee and the full House of Representatives, without a “nay” vote in either place.

If the bill is passed and gains the governor’s signature, we’d expect rapid action, starting with the wrecking ball to Lowry Hall.

The Madison City Commission on Monday approved a request to close a portion of N.E. 6th Street for most of 2018 to accommodate construction equipment and staging of materials.

The MadLabs will be a secure research facility, and unlike most university buildings, will not be open to the public. Nevertheless, the work that will take place within its walls will include groundbreaking information technology work. Most prominent may be secure classified projects for the U.S. government.

We’ll be able to drive by and see the construction, but probably not walk in after it’s completed. That doesn’t dampen our excitement for the prospects the finished building will provide.


Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Jan. 25

Resolution just a start for mental health care

With the exception of one lawmaker, the state House of Representatives passed a resolution Tuesday supporting additional mental health services in western South Dakota.

The 62-1 vote came after the Rapid City Council and Pennington County Commission approved similar resolutions. The effort is being spearheaded by Rapid City attorney Al Scovel, who has made impassioned pleas to bring a state-supported mental health center to western South Dakota. Those who now need treatment from the state must be transported to the Human Services Center in Yankton, which is more than 350 miles from Rapid City. In some cases, that means putting patients in restraints while being hauled across the state by law enforcement. South Dakota is one of five states that allow those suffering from a mental health crisis to be held in jail, a clear sign that lawmakers and state officials have not made their care a priority.

Rep. Taffy Howard, a Rapid City Republican, cast the lone vote against the resolution that simply brings attention to a clear need. While it is a sign of progress that 62 lawmakers have officially acknowledged the problem, the resolution should only be considered the beginning of a process that brings a mental health center and more services to this area.

Perhaps, the Legislature can set aside such pressing legislation as drug tests for lawmakers, requiring public schools to allow “patriotic presentations” or whether they deserve a pay raise or not and give time to an issue of upmost concern in western South Dakota.

Will any West River lawmaker pick up the torch from Al Scovel and lead on this issue or are they more concerned about passing the same concealed carry bill that Gov. Daugaard vetoed last year and will likely veto again if put on his desk?

In fact, it would seem that gun advocates would embrace the opportunity to expand mental health care. Every time a mass shooting occurs in this nation, it is the NRA supporters who respond by saying this is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. If they truly believe that, then they should help solve the problem. Otherwise, what the public hears is nothing more than a well-rehearsed talking point.

It is also an appropriate time for the three candidates for governor - Republicans Marty Jackley and Kristi Noem and Democrat Billie Sutton - to declare their support or opposition to a mental health center in western South Dakota. Will they lead, follow or dismiss the issue?

In the meantime, Gov. Daugaard should take the resolution seriously and at the very least appoint a task force to study it this summer with the goal of proposing legislation in 2019 to bring some sanity to the state’s approach to mental health care.

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