Monthly Archives: December 2009

Placing their bets in gubernatorial campaigns

His early start gave Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard the big advantage in fundraising. But the entries of state Senate Republican leader Dave Knudson and state Senate Democratic leader Scott Heidepriem would seem to make the 2010 election for governor a highly competitive contest in the money arena. Will any of the six candidates (seven if you count state Rep. Gordon Howie, who hasn’t filed the official paperwork yet for a campaign committee)  have raised more than $1 million in 2009 alone? Will Knudson or Heidepriem have raised more than Daugaard this year? Daugaard’s front-runner status for the Republican nomination is largely based on his support from term-limited Gov. Mike Rounds and Dennis’ fundraising efforts, which began in 2007. He started 2008 with more than $404,000 in cash on hand and brought in just over $500,000 in direct contributions and other income in 2008. He began 2009 with $811,582.99 in cash on hand. We haven’t seen nor heard of any big-check gatherings lately for the other Democratic candidate, former state legislator Ron Volesky, or the other Republican candidates, former Brookings mayor Scott Munsterman and former Stockgrowers president Ken Knuppe. In a race where all of the candidates seem to be unfamiliar to large percentages of South Dakota’s electorate, money will be important in the next five months as the candidates spend to develop name identification and distinguish themselves from one another leading to the June primary elections. We’ll know each campaign’s financial status in the next month as they file their year-end reports with Secretary of State Chris Nelson’s office.

PUC staff, Xcel Energy reach deal on 7.4 percent rate hike

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to decide Tuesday, Jan. 5, whether to accept a settlement reached between its staff and Xcel Energy (aka Northern States Power) on the company’s request to raise electricity rates. The company would be allowed to raise its retail prices an overall 7.4 percent, or nearly $10.95 million more annually from the 2008 test year. The increase, if adopted by the three commissioners, would be effective Jan. 18, 2010. The settlement was signed by lawyers for the PUC staff and the company last week, according to documents newly on file at the PUC. Xcel was seeking an increase of 10.65 percent, or about $15.7 million, from rate payers.

It’s our meter. Now pay $7,602 you didn’t know you owed.

MidAmerican Energy faces a Jan. 11 deadline to answer a complaint filed by a Sioux Falls business. MidAmerican wants A Plus Towing and Repair to pay $7,602.46 because MidAmerican’s meter wasn’t registering properly. How long has this problem been going on? Since June 1997, according to a letter from MidAmerican which towing business owner Mark Pyle cites in his official complaint filed with the state Public Utilities Commission. MidAmerican wants $7,516.70 in back charges. The problem was discovered after MidAmerican installed a new meter on Oct. 14. Pyle is asking that the PUC determine who’s responsible for the 120 months of under-billing. He also asks the regulatory agency to consider requiring utilities to conduct meter testing annually and at other times such as new account activations.

You need to know this about road conditions

Our state Department of Transportation won’t be working to keep roads open after supper Wednesday. From a news release issued earlier today:

Travelers are reminded that Department of Transportation crews will plow
until approximately 7 p.m. as conditions allow. After 7 p.m. time winter
maintenance will be suspended and will resume at approximately 5 a.m.,
weather permitting.

Blog site scoops RCJ on garbage criminal probe

One of the challenges involving morning newspapers and night meetings is the rush to get the story into print and the dilemma about whether to stay until the final gavel. This morning the blog site Decorum Forum (www.decorumforum.blogspot.com) has a breaking-news post that I couldn’t find at the Rapid City Journal’s Internet site as dawn broke over the Black Hills. The news took place at the end of the City Council meeting Monday after an executive session. The blog has a councilman confirming a criminal investigation is under way against Fish Garbage Service of Rapid City. The council voted to revoke Fish’s license to conduct business in the city and hired independent private legal counsel to represent the city and file civil action against Fish. Head to the blog site for the full scoop. This could become a very, very interesting story as it is further developed. By the way, the Journal does have a story today about the council’s running controversy over fines for feeding waterfowl. What  a great news town!UPDATE: The Journal has posted a short news item which includes information that city officials are holding a news conference this afternoon (Tuesday) on the matter.

And you thought the Legislature would be focused on state government’s financial troubles

The sex-offender registry committee chaired by Sen. Gene Abdallah, R-Sioux Falls, has pre-filed eight separate pieces of legislation for consideration in the 2010 session. These are not be confused with the seven separate pieces of legislation pre-filed by the alcoholic beverage control and licensing study committee chaired by Sen. Tom Nelson, R-Lead.

By contrast, the long-term highway needs and Department of Transportation Agency review committee chaired by Rep. Shantel Krebs, R-Sioux Falls, produced three bills. Two are standard clean-ups of DOT and Aeronautics Commission statutes. The third is the omnibus funding measure that calls for tax and fee increases. The panel also pre-filed a non-binding legislative resolution urging Congress to pass “a balanced, well-funded, multi-year federal highway program which provides connectivity and mobility to both rural and urban areas.”

Any bets on which two sets of topics draws more lobbyist attention and effort this session? Maybe we need a filing fee so sex offenders cover the costs for monitoring their presence in South Dakota.

The Capital University Center lease

The building officially is known as the Wallace R. Hanson Education Center. In Pierre it’s commonly called the new CUC, or Capital University Center, building. The CUC Foundation built it on land granted from St. Mary’s Healthcare Center. And that’s where this matter gets somewhat interesting.

The land came to the foundation from St. Mary’s with restrictive covenants which, according to the lease, specifically prohibit use of the property or improvements “for the performance of euthanasia, abortions or any act which has the primary intended result of terminating pregnancy, consistent with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare Services, Fourth Edition, as promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as amended from time to time and as interpreted by the local bishop.”

The state Board of Regents, whose members govern the state universities including CUC, voted last week to accept the lease including the restrictive covenants. The board’s central office staff recommended the acceptance of the lease, and the lease specifically says the board “will endeavor to comply” with the restrictions.

The lease adds, “If the Board is concerned that an educational activity may violate the restrictive covenants, prior to undertaking the same, it will discuss the issue with the CUC Foundation and the CUC Foundation will endeavor to solicit approval thereof from St. Mary’s Healthcare Center.” This language appears on page 6 of the 16-page lease document.

Generally the lease appears to be standard otherwise in setting forth responsibilities for the various sides. The regents will pay $84,768 annually for use of the building. The initial length of the lease is 25 years, followed by automatic 10-year renewals and one final four-year renewal through 2098.

Regarding Sen. Howie

Assuming he goes forward, state Sen. Gordon Howie would be the seventh man to enter the 2010 campaign for election as South Dakota’s next governor. Howie, R-Rapid City, is midway of his third term in the Legislature. He served four years in the House of Representatives and won election to the Senate in 2008 by defeating Rep. Gordon Pederson, R-Wall, in a primary to succeed Sen. Jim Lintz, R-Hermosa. A key to Howie’s win over Pederson was Howie’s emphasis of Pederson’s vote against state regulation of hours and location of adult-oriented (aka sex) businesses; Pederson thought it should remain a local decision. The legislation, HB 1151, became law.

As for his own legislative efforts, Howie, 60, has found limited success. He was prime sponsor of four bills in the 2009 session. None passed. One would have allowed dogs to be used for hunting mountain lions. Another would have repealed the state law requiring students to remain in high school until age 18. A third would have required the physician to be present on the day before performing an abortion. The fourth would have increased the state sales tax to 6 percent from the current 4 percent and used the revenue to reduce general-education and special-education property taxes. The mountain-lion legislation was the only one of the four bills to survive past its first committee hearing; the Senate crushed the lion bill, voting against it 27-6, as opponents explained it would be chaos to allow dogs to chase lions through rural homesteads and subdivisions, and dogs catching young lions likely wouldn’t observe the state regulation against hunters killing them.

His sales-tax increase/property-tax reduction legislation also failed when he was in the House. It was one of two bills he introduced in 2008. The other changed state regulations for people who bow hunt and are disabled or physically incapacitated. The bow-hunting bill became law. Game, Fish and Parks Department matters have been a focus for Howie, who isn’t reluctant about talking about or showing his hunting trophies. In 2007, the only two pieces of legislation for which he was prime sponsor both passed: One changed regulations for transportation of fur-bearing animals; the other allowed disabled bow-hunters to use special equipment.

In 2006, he was prime sponsor of three bills. All passed in the House but lost in the Senate. One attempted to add more regulations on the practice of abortion. Another would have changed how big-game hunting licenses are allocated to non-resident hunters. The third dealt with restitution for filing false claims about pesticide use.

His first piece of legislation, and only piece he offered in 2005, would have repealed the state law that requires a person to show her or his Game, Fish and Parks license to a state conservation officer upon the officer’s request. The bill was defeated.

Regents change policy on nepotism, consensual relationships

The state Board of Regents decided this morning (Friday) to stop allowing most exceptions to its campus policy regarding nepotism and regarding consensual sexual relationships  between people who aren’t married to each other. The policy governs faculty and students as well as supervisors and employees. In a nutshell, no supervisor may engage in a consensual relationship with a supervised employee; no university faculty may engage in a consensual relationship with any student under their academic supervision; and no employee may be supervised by a close relative.