Monthly Archives: February 2010

Can you say ‘subrogation’?

A fierce fight is rapidly taking shape behind the scenes in the South Dakota House of Representatives regarding SB 169, a one-sentence piece of legislation on insurance subrogation sponsored by Sen. Nancy Turbak Berry, D-Watertown. The bill originally failed in the Senate 17-18 last week, then was given a second chance on a reconsideration vote of 18-16 the next day. The trail took an unusual twist when one of the original co-sponsors, Sen. Dennis Schmidt, R-Rapid City, was excused for that afternoon as the bill came up for debate again. That suggested the bill would be two “yes” votes short of the minimum 18 needed for passage. However, Sen. Julie Bartling, D-Burke, changed sides from an opponent to a supporter when the roll call came to her. That produced a  17-17 tie, with Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard presiding at the time. He cast the decisive “aye” vote to allow the bill to pass.

In the Senate hearing, lawyers Verne Goodsell of Rapid City, Rex Hagg of Rapid City and Mike DeMersseman of Rapid City all testified for the bill, all speaking for themselves. Opposing the legislation are lawyers representing insurance providers, including Mike Shaw of Pierre for the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America, Dennis Duncan of Parker for Dakotacare, Dick Tieszen of Pierre for State Farm Insurance and Dick Gregerson of Sioux Falls for Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Dakota.

The vote by Daugaard caught the insurance side off guard. His position becomes additionally interesting because he is the apparent frontrunner for the 2010 Republican nomination for governor. He is supported 100 percent in his candidacy by Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, whose livelihood is in insurance and real estate. If the Rounds administration took an official position on the bill, however, it wasn’t openly evident, with no one testifying from the administration on the legislation either way.

The issue is one of the few where four of the candidates for governor will be on the record with a vote. Senate Democratic leader Scott Heidepriem of Sioux Falls voted for the bill, putting Heidepriem and Daugaard on the same side, while Senate Republican leader Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls and Sen. Gordon Howie, R-Rapid City, opposed it.  Daugaard, Heidepriem and Knudson are attorneys, as is Turbak Berry — who by the way might be facing a challenge for Senate re-election from former Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, who is an attorney. During his most recent time in the Senate, Schoenbeck pushed a variety of changes to limit the lieutenant governor’s role; that was while Schoenbeck was still planning to run for the Republican 2010 nomination too.

The basic issue in the Turbak Berry legislation is whether an insurance company can recover from someone else for bodily injury or death or property damage until the person covered by the insurance company is made whole. Three-quarters of the Senate’s Republican majority voted against the bill, while only two of the Democrats did. This could become one of those issues that resonate long into the campaign season this spring and fall, after the legislative season wraps up at the end of March.

The Legislature’s countdown

The Legislature has 10 working days left in the 2010 session. Lawmakers return Monday, March 1, for their final four-day week of the year, then are scheduled for a full five days.  The key deadlines ahead include:

Monday, March 8 — Last day for a piece of legislation to be sent or forced from a committee;

Tuesday, March 9 — Last day for a piece of legislation to be approved by both chambers (Senate bills in the House, House bills in the Senate). This is legislative day 34;

Wednesday, March 10, through Friday, March 12 — These are days are reserved for conference committees to settle differences in legislation passed in separate versions by the House and the Senate. The panels have three senators and three representatives, with a panel for each of the unresolved pieces of legislation. Their recommendations are sent to the full House and the full Senate to decide whether to accept, send back for further negotiation by a new conference committee or reject without appointing a new conference committee.

Saturday, March 13, through Sunday, March 28 — The Legislature is on break while the governor uses the two weeks to analyze the remaining bills passed in final form by the Legislature. His three choices are to sign into law, let become law without his signature, issue a full veto to block the legislation or use a style and form veto to recommend minor technical changes. Overriding a governor’s full veto requires a tw0-thirds majority in each of the House and the Senate. Approving a governor’s style-and-form veto takes a simple majority; and

Monday, March 29 — This is the Legislature 38th day. Technically it’s purpose is reserved for veto consideration. But the state budget might still be in play on this day. And the Legislature, through a two-third vote in each chamber, can suspend the rules and introduce a new bill or resurrect an existing one.

How much work is left? The entire state-budget issue remains unresolved, as does the question of changes in the construction tax refund program for large business projects and agricultural processing plants. On the other hand, the work remains unevenly distributed. At least seven committees appear to be in wind-down mode. For example, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the Senate Local Government Committee, the Senate Taxation Committee and the Senate Transportation Committee aren’t meeting Monday, while the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, the House Local Government Committee and the House Transportation Committee aren’t meeting Tuesday, despite being normally scheduled for bill hearings.

Is President Obama referring to South Dakota?

Thanks to the retired buddy of a newspaper publisher I know who passed this tip along. Here’s an excerpt of President Barack Obama’s remarks, from the official White House transcript, during his health-care summit with members of Congress earlier this week. They would appear to refer to South Dakota and the credit-card banks chartered here.

I wonder what our delegation in Congress and our governor might have to say in response. These comments are especially interesting because 1) Citibank, the trend setter in moving to South Dakota, has major credit-card operations in South Dakota and Nevada; Nevada is the home state of the U.S. Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, while South Dakota Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson is No. 2 on the Senate banking committee; and of course, there’s that truly powerful fellow, Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer from New York, the true home of Citibank; 2) Our lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives is Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, who served on the board of a bank which has come under federal scrutiny for its credit-card practices just before and just after she was a director; 3) South Dakota Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune is increasingly touted as a possible presidential candidate; and 4) President Obama recently chose South Dakota Republican Mike Rounds as one member of his new panel of governors with whom he’ll check-in on occasion. There’s also that small matter of South Dakota Democrats favoring Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the 2008 June presidential primary, even though she no longer had much of a mathematical chance to beat him for the nomination. Would President Obama be saying this about South Dakota if Thune hadn’t beaten Tom Daschle? Or maybe we should ask if Obama would be president if Thune hadn’t won, because key members of Daschle’s staff joined Obama’s Senate office and presidential staff including Pete Rouse after Daschle’s defeat.

The president’s remarks:

“The philosophical concern I have on that is that you potentially get what’s been referred to as a race to the bottom.  And for people who may not be following the intricacies of the insurance market, let me give an example that people understand, and that’s credit cards. 

“In the credit card market, part of what happened was we ended up allowing people to get credit cards from every other — whatever state, and there were a few states that decided, you know what, we’re going to have the least restrictions on credit card companies that we could have.  And what ended up happening was that every single credit card company suddenly lo and behold started locating in that state which had the absolute worst regulations in consumer protections, and all these fees and practices that people don’t like, folks weren’t happy about.

“So the question I’m going to have is, is there a way for us to deal with the interstate purchase of health insurance, but in a way that provides, again, some baseline protections, because what we don’t want is a race to the bottom.  We want everybody to have the basic protections that make sense. “

 

A rough day for Scott M. and Ken K…. And a red flag for Scott H.

The Rasmussen poll results spreading throughout South Dakota today show how Democrat Scott Heidepriem would stack up against three of the Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for governor. The results unfortunately don’t look at the Republican primary itself, nor do they match the other two Republican candidates, Scott Munsterman and Ken Knuppe, against Heidepriem.

Considering that the June 8 primary campaign is about to enter the March through May stretch when people will pay the most attention (absentee voting opens April 27), it seems too early to completely disregard the chances of either Munsterman or Knuppe. Many Republicans have told me that Munsterman has been the best of the bunch one-on-one or with small groups.

The red flag in the numbers for Scott Heidepriem is his disapproval level. The polling measured the candidates’ favorable and unfavorable ratings. For Heidepriem, his very favorable is 18 percent and his somewhat favorable is 24 percent. But his somewhat unfavorable is 16 percent and his very unfavorable is 17 percent. A 42-33 split before you’ve run any paid advertising, or had any run against you, isn’t the kind of baseline from where you would hope to start.

The numbers otherwise showed two sets of basic partisan core support and opposition for all four of the gubernatorial candidates. The matchup of Heidepriem and Republican Dave Knudson favored Heidepriem 34 to 31 percent, with 13 percent wanting another candidate and 22 percent not sure. The Heidepriem vs. Republican Gordon Howie pairing again favored Heidepriem, 37 to 29 percent, with 12 percent wanting another candidate and 22 percent not sure. Republican Dennis Daugaard emerged as the favorite in the poll. He bested Heidepriem 41 to 32 percent, with 7 percent wanting another candidate and 19 percent not sure. The potential margin of error on all was plus or minus 4.5 percent. Overall the numbers indicated Heidepriem’s core support in the low to middle 30s, the pro-Republican vote in the 29 to 41 percent range, and the “not sure” vote at 19 to 22 percent.

Daugaard also had the best favorable-unfavorable splits. His very favorable was 19 percent and somewhat favorable 26 percent, while his somewhat unfavorable was 18 percent and very unfavorable 4 percent. That’s a 45-22 split, considerably better than Knudson at 32-21 and Howie at 29-29.

Knudson’s very favorable was 5 percent and somewhat favorable 27 percent, while his somewhat unfavorable was 17 percent and his very unfavorable was 4 percent. Howie’s very favorable was 5 percent and somewhat favorable 24 percent, while his somewhat unfavorable was 21 percent and his very unfavorable was 8 percent.

At this point, the polling suggests Daugaard and Heidepriem have the strongest early support, with 19 percent and 18 percent very favorable, respectively, while Heidepriem and Howie face the strongest early opposition, with 17 percent and 8 percent very unfavorable, respectively. The Republican nomination, based on these numbers alone at this point when Daugaard has been the only one with TV ads airing, would appear to be Daugaard’s to lose. Why? State law requires the primary’s top finisher have at least 35 percent of the vote in order to avoid a run-off, and Daugaard’s 19 percent very favorable puts him 14 points ahead of either Knudson or Howie in that measure.

Daugaard, who is the lieutenant governor and has the support of Gov. Mike Rounds, likely isn’t hurt at this point when Heidepriem refers to them jointly as the Rounds/Daugaard administration. The polling showed Rounds’ job performance ratings stand high after seven years and two months in office: strongly approve 22 percent, somewhat approve 49 percent, somewhat disapprove 20 percent and strongly disapprove 8 percent. That’s a split of 71-28.

By comparison, the survey found President Barack Obama’s split at 40-69: strongly approve 22 percent, somewhat approve 18 percent, somewhat disapprove 14 percent and strongly disapprove 45 percent. That last number is likely why Republicans increasingly think they can oust Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin from South Dakota’s lone seat in the House of Representatives. Of course, she did win every one of South Dakota’s 66 counties in 2008. That’s quite a foundation to crack, even when the president’s numbers are so weak.

A cheap shot? Or just immaturity?

Would Dakota State University still be open today if not for Bill Janklow, who as governor led the way to convert the teachers college into a world-class institution in the field of technology? My question is prompted by a blogger, currently employed by DSU, who wrote this morning: “Watch out at the intersections — former governor, congressman and inmate William Janklow is coming to Madison today.” Janklow is scheduled to speak at DSU.

Yes, I worked four years as press secretary and a senior aide during Janklow’s final term as governor. So call me an apologist if you want. Those of you who know me well know the nature of the sometimes tempestuous relationship between us during my years as a reporter prior to that time, and the nature of the sometimes tempestuous relationship during those four years in his administration.

I can only guess at how much the death of motorcyclist Randy Scott from Bill Janklow’s careless driving hurt the Scott family and friends. I know Bill Janklow has not forgotten and never will forgive himself. I know from those four years inside the office, and from the 26 years I’ve known him, that Bill Janklow’s brain was always racing with some idea about how to make South Dakota a better place.  DSU is one such example. And lest someone misconstrue the point, I’m not saying the death of Randy Scott is the price we had to accept.

Here’s what I am saying. Yeah, it’s funny to write “Watch out at the intersections…” Just pray it’s never you that the joke is about.

No free ride ahead for Cooper appointment

The inside word from the state Senate’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee isn’t encouraging for the governor’s appointment of John Cooper to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission. I’m told today that a straw poll of committee members showed five hard “no” votes so far against confirmation of the former GFP secretary.  Right now the confirmation hearings on Cooper and the reappointment of Susan Knippling of Gann Valley are set for Tuesday morning in the committee. If the Senate indeed gets to the question in the 10 working days left in the 2010 session, there is the possibility that the appointment might be assigned to another panel whose members would be more favorably inclined toward Cooper, such as the Senate State Affairs Committee. Members of the ag committee are Sen. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, who is the chairman; Sen. Tom Hansen, R-Huron; Sen. Cooper Garnos, R-Presho; Sen. Jim Bradford, R-Pine Ridge; Sen. Gordon Howie, R-Rapid City; Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell; Sen. Jim Peterson, D-Revillo; Sen. Ryan Maher, D-Isabel; and Sen. Frank Kloucek, D-Scotland. The Senate showed itself willing to take a hard partisan line last year on the appointment of former Rep. Phyllis Heineman, R-Sioux Falls, to the state Board of Education. She was confirmed despite Democratic opposition. Cooper will be filling a Democratic East River non-landowner slot on the commission now held by Spencer Hawley of Brookings. Opposition to his appointment is philosophical rather than partisan. There’s also the question of whether Watertown, Brookings, Huron, Mitchell or Yankton couldn’t produce a qualified candidate for the slot. State law sets the criteria for commission members so there is a balance of political, geographic and landowner/non-landowner members. The commission’s current members who will be continuing are Tim Kessler of Aberdeen, Mike Authier of Vivian, Jim McMahon of Sioux Falls, Randy Kemink of Gettysburg, Mert Clarkson of Ludlow and Jeff Olson of Rapid City. Prior to his retirement at the end of 2006, Cooper played the key role in recommending Jeff Vonk as his replacement. Cooper and Vonk came to know each other well during their time together as the respective heads of the GFP agencies in South Dakota and Iowa.

The Dome Dog, 2001-2009

Alas, sad news today from Minneapolis, where the Twins baseball organization has announced Hormel no longer will supply hot dogs for home games as the club moves to its new Target Field outdoor stadium for the 2010 season. I suppose they’ll cut ties with Joe Mauer next.

Cooper returns to GFP — as a commissioner

Gov. Mike Rounds pulled a rabbit out of the hat today with his appointment of former Game, Fish and Parks Secretary John Cooper as the new member of the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission. Coop succeeds Spencer Hawley of Brookings, who was very effective during his seven years on the commission. The governor also reappointed Susie Knippling of Gann Valley, who remains as the only woman on the commission and is an influential member. Hawley originally was appointed in May 2003 by Rounds to replace Mark Yonke of Yankton. Hawley was reappointed in March 2006 at the same time that Knippling received her original appointment.

Cooper’s return brings an unusual dynamic as a member of a commission that oversees the department which he once managed. Cooper originally was appointed as GFP secretary in 1995 by Gov. Bill Janklow. He continued throughout Janklow’s administration and into Rounds’ administration. Cooper retired as secretary at the end of 2006 and was succeeded by Jeff Vonk, who began duties in January 2007. Cooper previously spent 21 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

An appointment to the GFP Commission requires Senate confirmation. I don’t know whether any senators will bring it up, but I know some House members who would look forward to the opportunity to ask John Cooper about his signature as GFP secretary on the memorandum of agreement dated Feb. 3, 2006, in which GFP agreed to lease from then-School and Public Lands Commissioner Bryce Healy the McIlravey Ranch Unit in Pennington County. The five-year deal calls for GFP to pay $35,000 annually through 2010 in return for cutting in half the grazing capacity on the public land. Copies of the McIlravey lease have been circulating among legislators for weeks, long before the Cooper appointment was announced today.

A party-line vote over ‘Seinfeld’ legislation

The old Seinfeld television comedy was once described as a show about nothing. Well, there was nothing funny aside from the sheer craziness of the argument in the state Senate on Tuesday afternoon. The minority Democrats are unwilling to trust the majority Republicans, probably with good reason from their perspectives, and therefore voted against SB 187, which is sponsored by Sen. Bob Gray, R-Pierre, and four other Republican leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives. What does the bill say and do?

Supposedly nothing, according to Gray and Senate Republican leader Dave Knudson of Sioux Falls. They’ve both pledged there’s no secret plan and that the bill is only what’s known as a place-holder. That’s a common tactic in the Legislature because of the traditional standard that at least one key word in a bill’s original title must have some correlation to the final version of the bill. This place-holder approach has been done numerous times in the past, sometimes with the leaders of both parties in both chambers on the sponsor list. It’s a way to get around needing to suspend the rules on a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber to introduce a new bill after the bill-filing deadline.

So what to make of Gray’s current bill? Here’s the title: “An Act to provide for the adjustment of appropriated moneys to projected available revenues.” Clear as mud, right? The bill’s text is one sentence long: “Section 1. The total amount of moneys appropriated in the general appropriations act may not exceed the amount determined to be available by the Legislature.”

Because Republicans have killed most if not all of the Democrats’ budget-cutting legislation, and Republicans have pledged to cover a $40 million budget shortfall for 2011 without raising taxes and without using reserves, and Republicans haven’t shown their plan yet, Democrats are increasingly reluctant to play ball. Further reasons for suspicion: Gray is chairman of the South Dakota Republican central committee; and Knudson is running for the Republican nomination for governor (as is Sen. Gordon Howie of Rapid City), while Senate Democratic leader Scott Heidepriem is his party’s only candidate for governor at this point.

The vote on Gray’s bill was 20 yes and 14 no. Every yes was a Republican. Every no was a Democrat.

Of course, the fire’s been burning hot in the House of Representatives along partisan lines, too. Republicans don’t have enough members in the House to pass legislation requiring a two-thirds majority of 47 yes votes and therefore need Democratic help. Democrats stood together and blocked the Homestake funding legislation for the second time Tuesday.

And of course then Republican Gov. Mike Rounds got into the play by issuing a news release on official state letterhead from his official state government press office. He said Homestake funding had never been politicized before.

The Delayed Opportunity Scholarship

The state House of Representatives just voted moments ago (Tuesday) to change the payment schedule for students who qualify for South Dakota’s Opportunity Scholarship. Rather than getting their money up front each year of the four-year scholarship, Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City, wants them to wait and prove they’re actually college or tech-school material before they get any of the $5,000 total. Under her plan, HB 1224, students would get $1,000 at the start of their second year, another $1,000 at the start of their third year, and $2,000 at the start of their fourth year. They’d get the final $1,000 at the start of the second semester of their fourth year. The House vote was 44-26.

With four years at a state university now costing in the range of $50,000 to $60,000, the $5,000 scholarship is equivalent to a 10 percent discount. When you consider that state tuition and fees rise at an average of about 6 percent annually, the Opportunity is becoming worth less and less as each year passes. House Republicans such as majority leader Bob Faehn of Watertown and Ryan Olson of Onida cast the Sly bill as one of the ways they can balance state government’s budget.  Olson said delaying the payment is better than reducing the amount. The legislation now heads to the Senate. Both state Education Secretary Tom Oster and the state Board of Regents opposed the Sly bill.