Northern Electric objects to Dakota Access request

Dakota Access, the proposed pipeline that would carry North Dakota crude oil through South Dakota to points beyond where there is processing available, won’t get a free pass on its request for permission to buy its electricity from NorthWestern Energy for its pump station planned in Spink County. That territory is assigned to Northern Electric rural cooperative, based at Bath. Northern Electric filed paperwork to intervene in the application by Dakota Access seeking permission from the state Public Utilities Commission to buy its power from NorthWestern Energy. The PUC will decide Tuesday whether to grant intervention. The Northern Electric filing says it should be the assigned service provider rather than NorthWestern Energy.

Hunters: Reduce turkey take, add SF goose hunt

The written comments provided so far to the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission run strongly in favor reducing the fall turkey kill in the Black  Hills, possibly by prohibiting the taking of hens, and also run strongly in favor of adding the special season for hunting geese around Sioux Falls. The commission holds a public hearing Wednesday afternoon at its meeting in Pierre at the RedRossa Convention Center (agenda and documents).

Broader definition of veteran won’t go to statewide vote

Ted Fowler of Aberdeen confirmed this afternoon he wouldn’t be filing the signatures collected on petitions that sought to refer a new state law to a statewide vote. The law in question greatly broadens the definition of a veteran. HB 1179 passed with very strong support in the Legislature. The deadline to file sufficient signatures was 5 p.m. CT today. Fowler said he came up far short of the 13,871 valid signatures of South Dakota registered voters necessary to trigger a referendum. The law will take effect Wednesday, July 1. “We fell so short of what we needed, it was actually embarrassing,” Fowler said. “A bunch of wannabes get the title and didn’t earn it.” Fowler said he served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam during 1967-68. The new law is here.

Lately, I see more eagles than coyotes

Coyotes can’t fly, of course, at least not in the air. But in recent months and in recent years, there’s no question I’ve seen many more bald eagles and golden eagles as I drive the two-lane highways throughout South Dakota. Back when I was a kid, bald eagles faced extinction in the United States. Environmental regulations that were put in place in the wake of Rachel Carson’s work and book made a difference in allowing eagles to recover throughout much of our nation. The federal government put eagles on the endangered species list in 1978. They have rebounded so strongly in the 37 years since, that in August a public hearing will be held to remove bald eagles from South Dakota’s official state list of threatened species. The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission will conduct the hearing during its Aug. 6 meeting in Aberdeen. The hearing will start at 2 p.m. CT at the AmericInn, 301 Centennial St. Read the public notice for the hearing here to learn more about the South Dakota numbers.

Current state officials backed same-sex marriage ban

Voting records show five of South Dakota’s present top elected leaders — Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, state Public Utilities Commission member Kristie Fiegen and state Rep. Roger Hunt — as legislators supported South Dakota’s official policy banning same-sex marriage and the state’s refusal to recognize same-gender marriages performed elsewhere.

All of them, plus a few others still in the Legislature, voted in the 2000 legislative session for the state law saying same-gender marriages wouldn’t be recognized from other states. The original ban against same-gender marriage passed in 1996 with Rep. Hunt leading the effort. He also sponsored the 2000 legislation; one of his co-sponsors was Michels, then a state representative.

The constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed in 2006.

All of South Dakota’s same-gender restrictions now will be nullified, it would seem, by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision released this morning.

 

Legislature could send more members to meetings

There are times when legislators attend the regular meetings of state boards and commissions. In recent months we’ve seen Sen. Jeff Monroe, R-Pierre, and Rep. Mary Duvall, R-Pierre, at state Transportation Commission meetings. Through the years we’ve seen a steady flow of lawmakers, most recently Sen. Jim White, R-Huron, and Duvall, at meetings of several different water and environment boards. During the Common Core controversy in the past year or so, we’ve seen a variety of legislators, most often opponents of Common Core, at state Board of Education meetings. The Board of Regents, knowing the importance of good relations with the Legislature, routinely hosts breakfasts for area legislators when the regents meet at one of the university campuses. For a while some years ago, legislators popped into parts of the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission meetings; Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, attended part of one in Pierre earlier this month.

The Legislature now allows $129 pay per day per legislator for interim in-state travel. There are many meetings of state boards and commissions that seldom or never see a legislator in the audience. This topic comes to mind today because of the South Dakota High School Activities Association. The Legislature has become highly concerned in the past two years about some of the association’s actions and policies and its rule-making authority — so concerned that the Legislature’s Executive Board chose the SDHSAA as an interim study topic — and so concerned that lawmakers have been fighting to get more legislators onto the study panel. The Legislature took an important step in 2014 by requiring the SDHSAA to operate under the same open-meeting and public-record requirements as its member public schools (SB 90, whose prime sponsor was Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg). That law also requires the SDHSAA to annually report to the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee. But getting legislators to the SDHSAA board of directors meetings would be another step.

SDHSAA meetings are grinders. The directors plow through a lot in one or two days. They hold a strategic planning meeting Aug. 26 and a regular business meeting Aug. 27. They’re scheduled to meet after that on Nov. 4 and Jan. 13. The directors are more transparent regarding their agenda items and actions as the result of the 2014 law. One important step taken by the directors was streaming the meeting audio on the Internet; the next step would be to archive that audio so people could listen at times other than the actual live meeting. The Legislature also could insert that small requirement into the open-meetings and public-records law. The SDHSAA allows directors to serve only one term and there are further eligibility requirements. The board is losing a skilled leader in Rick Weber of Flandreau, whose time is up, and the retirement of Dan Whalen as Pierre athletic director takes another strong, common-sense voice from the board. Sandy Klatt of Brandon, a school board representative, isn’t afraid to speak up, Linda Whitney of Sanbord Central brings a wealth of experience and the new leadership team of Aberdeen Central’s Jason Uttermark as chairman and Steve Morford of Spearfish as vice chairman has shown itself to be competent and interested in transparency.

The Legislature’s interim panel studying the SDHSAA meets Friday morning to receive a general review of its operations and how activities associations work in other states. The committee will decide from there on topics for further consideration. The agenda indicates the next meeting will be Aug. 20. That will be in advance of the SDHSAA directors’ next meeting Aug. 26-27. Those eight days could set a tone and direction, from both sides.

Dakota Access withdraws request w/update

The state Public Utilities Commission this morning will consider approving the withdrawal of the Dakota Access petition to use NorthWestern Energy electricity for its proposed pump station in Spink County for the proposed Dakota Access crude-oil pipeline that would go through South Dakota from North Dakota. In its withdrawal letter, an attorney representing Dakota Access didn’t provide a reason. In the initial application for service from NorthWestern, rather than Dakota Energy, the cooperative that serves the Crandon area where the pump station is to be built, Dakota Access argued the project would save facilities cost.

UPDATE: Kara Semmler, a lawyer representing Dakota Access, said the petition was misfiled regarding Dakota Energy. She said the similar request is filed under another docket regarding Northern Electric. The commission granted the withdrawal this morning on the misfiling.

Legislators split on SDHSAA study panel’s membership

Sometimes important news regarding state government happens out of sight, or at least outside Pierre. Reading the meeting minutes today we learn that the Legislature’s Executive Board split 6-6 on whether more lawmakers should have been appointed to the interim committee that will study the South Dakota High School Activities Association. The underlying current is whether the study panel’s members were (and still are) opposed to the SDHSAA’s transgender participation policy.

The Executive Board met June 9 in Sioux Falls at the state Investment Office quarters. Evidently there weren’t any reporters available there at that time to cover the meeting. Sen. Jim White, R-Huron, chaired an ad hoc subcommittee on interim assignments. The ad hoc group recommended for the SDHSAA panel that Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, be its chairman and Rep. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, be its vice chairman.

Bolin fought hard during the 2015 legislative session to overturn the SDHSAA transgender policy; the SDHSAA policy basically recognizes whatever gender a student thinks she or he is regardless of gender on the student’s birth certificate. Tieszen opposed the legislation that sought to void the SDHSAA policy.

The other senators on the interim committee will be Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge; Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings; and Bill Van Gerpen, R-Tyndall. Van Gerpen supported voiding the policy, while Bradford and Tidemann opposed the voiding.

The other representatives on the interim committee are Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell; Tim Rounds, R-Pierre; Kyle Schoenfish, R-Scotland; Roger Hunt, R-Brandon; Kris Langer, R-Dell Rapids; and Julie Bartling, D-Gregory. Rounds, Hunt and Langer voted to void the policy. Rozum, Schoenfish and Bartling voted against voiding the policy.

During the Executive Board meeting, Hunt said the interim committee didn’t reflect the House’s position that twice favored voiding the SDHSAA policy. House Speaker Dean Wink, R-Howes, who chairs the Executive Board this year, said the interim committee will take a broader look rather than focus on the transgender issue. Then the House Republican leader, Brian Gosch of Rapid City, said any legislator who is interested should be allowed to serve on an interim committee. Wink, who supported voiding the transgender policy, said the budget already was set earlier in the board’s meeting for legislators’ travel during the interim.

Two E-Board members — Rep. Don Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, and Sen. David Omdahl, R-Sioux Falls — made and seconded a motion to add three legislators to the interim committee. Those three would have been Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls; Rep. Larry Zikmund, R-Sioux Falls; and Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark. The motion deadlocked at 6-6.

The next motion was to accept the ad hoc committee’s recommendation. That passed 7-5. Bolin cast the key vote. He voted for the recommendations after previously supporting adding Haugard, Zikmund and Greenfield.

Voting aye to accept the ad hoc recommendations were Bolin; House Democratic leader Spencer Hawley of Brookings; Rep. Timothy Johns, R-Lead; Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center; Sen. Scott Parsley, D-Madison; White; and Wink. Voting nay were Gosch. Haggar; Hunt; Sen. Phyllis Heineman, R-Sioux Falls; and Omdahl.

Not present were Rep. Fred Romkema, R-Spearfish; Senate Demcoratic leader Billie Sutton of Burke; and Senate Republican leader Corey Brown of Gettysburg. All three opposed the attempts during the legislative session to void the transgender policy.

The interim committee meets for the first time Friday, June 26, in Pierre at 10 a.m CT at the Capitol, room 413. The agenda is here. The meeting likely can be heard via Internet by clicking on the link next to the listing on the meetings page.

The SDHSAA board of directors, lawyer and executive staff meanwhile are working on possible revisions to the transgender policy.

Basin Electric leaving behind RUS

I couldn’t pretend to explain everything the federal Rural Utilities Service does and why its future at times looks iffy. But enough is happening with federal regulations that Basin Electric, the big provider of rural power for much of rural South Dakota, has said goodbye to RUS.

As detailed in the latest issue of Basin Today magazine, the North Dakota-based cooperative’s board voted in May to “refinance all RUS guaranteed Federal Finance Banking debt and go to cooperative banks as well as private and public markets for all future debt financing.”

Basin reportedly could be clear of RUS as early as September. That’s $1.4 billion that needs to be moved.

Steve Johnson, Basin’s chief financial officer, is quoted in the magazine’s story saying that changes sought for federal rules administering the National Environmental Policy Act helped drive the decision. Johnson said there could be “much longer delays” in financing construction for generation and large transmission projects.

He also noted, however, that RUS would continue to serve “a vital purpose” for distribution cooperatives.