Monthly Archives: December 2010

The PUC’s long march

Five years ago this month, the state Public Utilities Commission decided to start the process to write new rules about how much a telephone company can be charged to complete a call from one of its customers to another telephone company’s customer in South Dakota. These are called switched-access rates. The PUC finally is proceeding with a public hearing on those rules. The hearing is set for Jan. 20 at the state Capitol. Two of the commissioners who were in office when the rule-making docket was opened — Bob Sahr and Dusty Johnson — won’t even be PUC members any longer when the hearing is held. Sahr didn’t seek re-election four years ago, and Steve Kolbeck was elected. Kolbeck is the new chairman of the commission. Johnson meanwhile will resign Jan. 8 so he can officially become chief of staff in Gov.-elect Dennis Daugaard’s new administration. Stepping directly into the fierce fight over access rates will be Chris Nelson. He’s currently secretary of state and is term-limited, so Daugaard has decided to appoint him to the Johnson vacancy. The PUC’s lone holdover is commissioner Gary Hanson.

What’s at stake? The proposed rules call for switched access rates in competitive local service area – those with an established incumbent company and a competing company – to vary by the type of company. Companies with at least 85 percent of their total lines in communities with less than 10,000 population can charge up to nine cents per minute. Companies with 15 percent or more of their total lines in communities with 10,000 population or larger can charge up to 6.042 cents. The bottom line is the proposed rates are a subsidy for rural service providers at the expense of urban service providers. Whether you think that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on where you live and where you do business.

Losing a congressional seat

The new U.S. census results point to shifts in the apportionment of U.S. House of Representatives seats, among states and within states that have more than one. South Dakota holds the constitutional minimum of one House seat and won’t be getting another, perhaps ever. South Dakota fell from two to one after the 1980 census. Now Minnesota appears on the edge of losing a seat because other places have grown faster. Minnesota fell from nine seats to eight in 1980, too.

South Dakota had three seats in the House during the early decades of the twentieth century. The system of three specific districts took hold with the 1912 elections. The 1920s fiascoes in South Dakota’s government and economy, and the national crash, led to South Dakota losing population in the 1930 census. That in turn meant South Dakota lost a House seat. South Dakota had two House seats from the 1932 elections until the 1982 elections. In 1982, the two districts were consolidated into a statewide seat. The election that fall matched two incumbents, with Democrat Tom Daschle defeating Republican Clint Roberts. Since Daschle’s victory that November, the lone House seat has been held by Democrats more often than by Republicans. Daschle spent four years in the seat, followed by Democrat Tim Johnson for 10 years. Republican John Thune held it for six years. Republican Bill Janklow held it one year before his resignation. Democrat Stephanie Herseth Sandlin held it from June 2004 until now. Republican Kristi Noem takes office in January. That’s 20-plus years of Democrats and seven-plus years of Republicans.

Four more named to Daugaard Cabinet (Updated Again)

Gov.-elect Dennis Daugaard puts four more folks into position for when his administration takes office Jan. 8. South Dakota’s new secretary of public safety will be Trevor Jones. He currently is assistant director for the state Division of Criminal Investigation and succeeds Tom Dravland, who’s retiring from state government. Meanwhile the new commissioner of administration will be Paul Kinsman, who held the post 2003-2006. Kinsman has been secretary of revenue and regulation the past five years. He succeeds Jeff Bloomberg, whom Daugaard didn’t retain in that slot. At this point Bloomberg’s future officially remains uncertain, but there’s speculation he could be moving into a staff attorney job in a state department or bureau. He previously was staff lawyer for the state Bureau of Personnel. BOP could need a replacement for Lynne Valenti, who’s received a promotion to deputy secretary of social services. UPDATE: Unofficial word is Bloomberg is heading to a spot in the Department of Corrections, now held by former Circuit Judge Max Gors, that deals with pardons and parole issues. Bloomberg was secretary of corrections in the Janklow administration. FURTHER UPDATE: Latest unofficial word is Bloomberg now might be returning to Personnel, where he previously was a staff lawyer.

The governor-elect also announced two interim Cabinet appointments today while the search continues for successors for Human Services Secretary Jerry Hofer and Commissioner of Information and Telecommunications Otto Doll. Amy Iverson-Pollreisz will be interim secretary of human services. She’s been director of the department’s mental health division. Jim Edman will be interim BIT commissioner. He’s the bureau’s chief security officer and broadband manager. Daugaard decided against retaining Hofer and Doll in their current posts. Both are expected to receive other assignments.

Regents seek to expand use of HEF funds

One piece of legislation the state Board of Regents plans to submit in the 2011 session would add six words to the law regarding use of Higher Education Facilities funds. HEF fees collected from students already are used to construct university buildings, maintain and repair them, and to pay rent for buildings leased by universities. The regents want the Legislature to expand the law to allow HEF funds for M&R on “facilities occupied under capital leases.” The specific target at this time is the Health Science Center in Sioux Falls that is part of the USD medical school. HEF funds are distributed for M&R on a square footage basis.

Carrying steaks to Helena? (Updated)

South Dakota’s Democratic U.S. senator, Tim Johnson, made a friendly wager with Montana Democratic U.S. senator Max Baucus on the NAIA football championship game this weekend between the University of Sioux Falls and Carroll College of Helena. Tim’s putting South Dakota beef steaks on the line, while Max is putting beer from Helena’s Lewis and Clark Brewery on the table. USF is the defending two-time national champ, while Carroll is no slouch. The game is Saturday in Rome, Georgia. As someone who has two favorite kinds of brew — cold and warm — with his beef, this bet has my full attention. UPDATE: USF lost.

A $5.6 million case of mail fraud

The U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement this afternoon regarding a big-money instance of mail fraud committed in South Dakota. It’s worth taking the time to read:

US Attorney Brendan V. Johnson announced that on December 10, 2010, a Brookings, South Dakota, man appeared before U.S. District Judge Roberto A. Lange and pled guilty to an information charging Mail Fraud. Former 3M engineer, David Beulke, age 62, admitted to devising an embezzlement scheme that lasted over 15 years and resulted in a total theft from 3M of $5,610,563. Court documents detail Beulke’s scheme, in which he created fraudulent businesses and held them out to 3M as legitimate vendors of specialized parts. Beulke would then cause 3M to place orders for supposed parts with those fake businesses, knowing those orders were fraudulent. When 3M would send money for those phony parts orders, Beulke would receive and keep the money. Pleadings indicate that $2,479,690.72 was seized from various investment and retirement accounts that Beulke funded with stolen money.

“This was a large-scale scheme that was highly orchestrated and went undetected for many years.” US Attorney Johnson said. “I am encouraged by our ability to initially recover a large sum of the stolen money, and I hope this prosecution will deter others.” The maximum penalty for mail fraud is 20 years in prison, up to a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release. Beulke will also be ordered to pay restitution. He was released pending sentencing which is scheduled for April 1, 2011. This case was investigated by the FBI. Assistant US Attorney Kevin Koliner is prosecuting the case.

The missing motto

The state constitution designates South Dakota’s official motto as “Under God the People Rule” and requires that it appear on the state seal. Retiring state Sen. Gordon Howie, R-Rapid City, wants more recognition for the motto. He suggests it should be on state government’s web site. He’s circulating an e-mail asking people to declare their support for a proclamation, set in a 1776-style typeface, that says the motto “is affirmed and shall continue to perpetually be the South Dakota state motto.” This is part of his Big Horn Canyon LLC, which he describes as a mission, in the religious context. His purpose: “To promote Godly principles in government, as intended by our Founding Fathers.” He plans to hold an event, titled Restoration Rally, at the state Capitol on Jan. 11, with people praying from 10 a.m. to noon.

A sex crisis in public health

The latest monthly report from state epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger tells us once again about the troubling trends regarding sexually transmitted disease in South Dakota. With 412 reported cases this calendar year through November, gonorrhea is at its highest point since 1988. In four of the five previous years, there were at least 350 cases. Among this year’s cases, 385 are concentrated in the 15-24 and 25-39 age brackets, and 62 percent overall were reported in females. Then there’s South Dakota’s other sexual scourge, chlamydia, with 2,857 cases through November. Of those 2,065 were in teens and young adults ages 15-24. Eighteen cases were among people age 14 and younger. Overall, 72 percent of the chlamydia cases this year were reported in females.  In 1995 South Dakota had 1,317 reported cases of chlamydia; in 2009, the total was 3,015. It would be very interesting to know how many of these cases are treated through public health systems and what their costs to taxpayers are, as well as how many are treated under private insurance coverage, and what those costs are to insurance buyers. It also would be worth knowing how many other problems correlate, such as premature births.

Noem goes national Saturday

U.S. Rep.-elect Kristi Noem is scheduled to deliver the Republicans’ nationwide radio address Saturday morning. (Evidently she’s already recorded it.) While she’s being spotlighted as a star on the rise, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is working from a cubicle as she finishes her final weeks in Congress. Noem defeated Herseth Sandlin in the Nov. 2 election for South Dakota’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.