- Associated Press - Friday, June 29, 2018

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, June 28

Put new online sales tax in separate fund

South Dakota had a problem.

More and more people were buying their clothes, electronics and even groceries online.

Because some of those companies didn’t have a physical location in our state, taxes weren’t being collected on those goods and state government’s coffers were getting squeezed.

But it was that same state government that came up with a grand solution to fight back - ultimately all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court - against some big and powerful names.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of South Dakota last week, saying it can force companies to collect and remit sales tax for customers in South Dakota even if that company doesn’t have a physical location in our state.

Let that sink in. Something that started in our tiny state legislature and was fought for by our Attorney General Marty Jackley will soon change the way everyone in America shops. Though Wayfair was on all of the court documents, it was online retailers as a whole who fought the state and this change to the law.

If this doesn’t help restore some faith that government can actually accomplish things, we’re not sure what will.

What’s better, the Supreme Court showed this wasn’t a liberal or conservative issue. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg - who is part of the court’s liberal wing - joined four of the more conservative justices in the affirmation while Chief Justice John Roberts - a conservative - joined the more liberal judges in the dissenting opinion. It’s a refreshing reprieve in these ultra-polarized times.

Before the Supreme Court ruling, South Dakota estimated that it was missing out on roughly $50 million a year in sales tax on internet purchases.

That’s a lot of dough, but who’s going to pay this new tax? The consumers. (All of us for those of you following along at home.)

Companies will simply need to collect the tax from you, the consumer, during your online checkout and then send that money to the state. While some consumers may view this as major downer, we see it as an opportunity for our state.

As a good faith gesture to the consumers of South Dakota, we ask that the state legislature look at creating a fund where these new online sales tax dollars can flow into.

Send a message to every South Dakota consumer that this new money, or at least part of it, will be put to a very specific good use. Show us that not only can little old South Dakota change something on a national scale, but we also know how to handle that success.

There is a litany of pressing issues facing our state and that new money could make a huge dent in some of them. By setting aside these tax dollars, the people of South Dakota could take solace in the fact that - what is ostensibly a new tax for most - will be used for an important South Dakota issue.

That new T-shirt can help pay for a mental health facility. Those new shoes can lower the cost of college for our children. A bright blue new sofa from Wayfair could give critical job training to someone in need.

We ask this of our state government. Pick a topic of need to focus on, set the money aside, and let’s solve another problem in South Dakota.


Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, June 26

Fireworks season: Where do you go?

The Fourth of July is just a week away, which means a beloved, spectacular and noisy ritual of America’s celebration of independence - the use of fireworks - is again at hand, with sales to in-state residents beginning today (Wednesday).

But in Yankton, there’s a problem with this tradition.

As discussed in a Press & Dakotan story Tuesday, there are actually very few places where a child (or a child at heart) can ignite fireworks in this vicinity.

Do you want to shoot some Roman candles or firecrackers in town? That can’t happen legally unless you have written clearance beforehand from the city to do it.

Do you want to head out to Gavins Point Dam to shoot fireworks? That’s the way a lot of people here used to enjoy their holiday fireworks. But no more: Fireworks are now prohibited in the state park, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers no longer allows the shooting of fireworks from the dam.

Do you head outside the city limits and discharge your fireworks in the country? That’s a tricky business, it turns out, as there are numerous limitations. You can’t simply shoot them on the road or from a remote area. Also, you can’t shoot them on private property unless the property owner gives you permission.

And there are always the sandbars on the river - if you can get to them, that is .

Thus, the thrill of fireworks season, which was something kids once looked forward to with glee, has been curbed considerably by laws and other rules that bar or limit the discharge of such items. While it’s true that many communities offer public displays on or near July 4 for entertainment, the art of enjoying privately purchased fireworks has been diminished.

Still, fireworks are sold in and around Yankton, although the number of vendors has dwindled dramatically in recent years.

There has also been a two-pronged effort to both demonize and defang fireworks. A lot of the pieces can still produce injuries, and there are (rightfully) warnings galore to treat the items with the utmost care. Meanwhile, a number of fireworks have seen their pop reduced to a fizzle in order to minimize any dangers they impose.

Ultimately, those wishing to discharge their own fireworks may be more apt to do it illegally, simply because there are so few other options.

An alternative might be for the city or county to set aside a place for the discharging of fireworks - just like the Corps used to do by allowing a night for fireworks to be shot off the dam. But such a move could also generate serious liability questions.

Or Yankton could change its rules. Communities like Norfolk, Nebraska, permit fireworks to be discharged within the city limits and under certain conditions (such as hours allowed), so there are municipal templates available that could be studied.

As this new holiday season dawns, we wish there were clear answers to this, because shooting fireworks was once one of the great joys of summer for kids. And since there are still retailers selling the items, there is still a demand.

All we can do today is ask people to use the fireworks safely and under adult supervision when they can find a place to fire them. Hopefully, you and/or your child have a place to shoot them. And hopefully, you can still enjoy this explosive piece of Americana as we celebrate our nation’s birthday.


Madison Daily Leader, Madison, June 27

Jackley is right: Trial won’t bring closure

Jury selection begins today (Monday) in the trial of Stephanie Hubers, a former business employee at a Platte-based educational cooperative.

The cooperative, known as Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, was thrust into the news after business manager Scott Westerhuis murdered his family and killed himself in 2015. Westerhuis is widely considered to have stolen more than $1 million through a complex scheme which involved, among others, a program called GEAR UP.

Hubers is accused of getting more than $50,000 to keep quiet about the embezzlement.

The entire scandal has shaken South Dakotans. The murder of innocent children, the financial fleecing of a program to help Native American youth, and the oversight of all the above is so disturbing. Of course, we aren’t able to bring Westerhuis, the apparent ringleader, to justice.

Political parties got into the act, with Democrats saying the state Republican administration didn’t provide appropriate oversight to prevent at least part of the tragedy.

Most observers are eager to get to the bottom of the situation, bring those responsible to justice, fix the broken program and set up prevention methods for the future.

Regrettably, we may not be able to do so.

Attorney General Marty Jackley, whose team is prosecuting the case against Hubers (and later against two others) said “I’m not sure that a jury trial or verdict can bring closure to a tragedy such as this.”

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do the best we can. While the trials won’t heal the wounds caused by Westerhuis and others, we still have the responsibility to prosecute fully, and fix as much as possible. Perhaps the most important part will be the work to prevent future scandals with sound oversight and rigorous auditing.

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