Monthly Archives: June 2012

Wearing the flag

A newspaper photograph of a baseball player caught my eye this morning. Specifically, a photograph that showed the player wearing a uniform based on the U.S. flag. This was an American Legion baseball team from South Dakota. Great looking uniform, especially for a team hosting its annual Firecracker tournament. Here’s a link http://rapidcityjournal.com/sports/legion-baseball-melendez-deals-hardhats-past-defending-champs/article_36b6d5d1-7462-5f07-ac94-a5eafb540519.html to the photo on the Rapid City Journal website.  Yet something in the back of my mind led me to wonder…

The point of this isn’t to stir a controversy, but here’s the answer. Title 4 of the U.S. Code, our body of federal laws, states: “No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.”

Here’s the link http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/RL30243.pdf to the Congressional Research Service paper on U.S. flag law. It’s important to note there’s no penalty or punishment prescribed in the law, as the CRS paper notes, and the Flag Code is “merely declaratory and advisory.”

It’s possible the flag-style uniform being worn by Rapid City American Legion Post 22 baseball players was thoroughly debated, and a decision was reached that the style is merely an artistic reference to the U.S. flag. No question that wearing a uniform based on the U.S. flag is a patriotic expression.  And if the practice was ever challenged, the U.S. Supreme Court likely would find it’s protected expression under the U.S. Constitution.

Water board selects officers

Brad Johnson of Watertown will continue as chairman for the state Board of Water and Natural Resources. Board members this morning re-elected a slate of Johnson, treasurer Don Rounds of Pierre and vice-chair Gene Jones Jr. of Sioux Falls.  The seven-member board’s main purpose is to review applications and make decisions for grants and loans for community and rural water projects throughout South Dakota.

Free ‘cookies’ from a state office — Update III

I’m no whiz at Internet technology, partially
because I never saw a need to be. I trusted the system. I especially trusted
the government websites that I visit via the Internet. I’m learning this month
that maybe I’ve been too trusting.

Another blogger told me yesterday how to check to see if
someone is tracking my Internet visits. I haven’t figured out the steps yet for
my nearly-outdated Explorer 7 browser. But he did explain the steps on the
Google Chrome browser.

Talk about an eye-opener.

What I find this fine morning is the Secretary
of State’s office placed cookies on my Chrome browser.

Are cookies a way to track a visitor’s Internet trips?

On Wednesday, SDSOS placed a cookie named
_utma on my Chrome browser. That cookie doesn’t expire until June 27, 2014. It
calls for data to be stored for “Any kind of connection.”

SDSOS placed a second cookie, named _utmz, on
my Chrome browser Wednesday, too. That cookie expires Dec. 27, 2012. It calls
for data to be stored for “Any kind of connection.”

As I scroll down a long list of cookies I see
SDSOS isn’t the only state government agency involved.

Should I be concerned?

UPDATE: I am so naive. Check out this link http://www.southdacola.com/blog/2012/06/the-plot-thickens-over-the-sos-scandal/ over at the South DaCola blog site. Where is all of this leading?

UPDATE II: Here’s another link http://www.examiner.com/article/the-gant-powers-impropriety-goes-back-further-than-most-people-think from blogger and past SoS candidate Lori Stacey. Some of the questions she asks were questions we had too once upon a time until the trail started to go cold. She has far better detail than we found.

UPDATE III: Our memories get stale. If you insert “Powers” into the search function on this blog, you’ll see some posts from the 2010-2011 period when South Dakota War College went through changes and when its creator, Pat Powers, was hired by Jason Gant. There are links within the comments tied to those old posts which are interesting — especially in light of what is gradually coming forth now.

Brand Board holds hearing on fee increase, votes to approve

The state Brand Board met this morning for a public hearing on raising the fee for livestock ownership inspections to 90 cents per head, from 80 cents. The roll-call vote was 5-0. Jerry Vogeler, executive director for the South Dakota Livestock Markets Association, said there’s been “a lot of give and take by everybody” and said his members are comfortable with the general direction of the brand-inspection program. He described it as “a good, sound proposal.” Silvia Christen, executive director for the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, said her board formally supported the 10-cent increase. South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and South Dakota Farmers Union also favor the proposal. The additional revenue will be used to cover mileage and the one-time bonus and ongoing 3 percent pay increases granted by the Legislature for state government employees. Speaking against today was rancher Kenny Fox, who called the fee increase “premature” because fuel prices are coming down and inspectors will be checking many more cattle because of the drought taking hold.  There were no other opponents. The Brand Board’s executive director, Larry Stearns, said the 10-cent increase would keep the inspection program solvent into the 2016 budget year. The Legislature previously added a $10 travel fee on producers who seek inspections for less than 100 head.  The program is estimated to inspect 1.55 million head of cattle in the current fiscal year that ends June 30. The program has inspected as few as 1.2 million in recent years. Earlier this year the Brand Board voted 3-2 to increase the fee to $1 but later retracted that decision at the request of Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Board member Curt Mortenson of Fort Pierre said the idea of going to $1 was to build a surplus that could be held for use in times when cattle numbers are low. The brand inspections are required in western South Dakota to deter theft. Mortenson said another increase might be necessary if herds are drawn down this summer and fall and aren’t rebuilt in the next few years. “We’re in a new world. We’ve never seen this much of South Dakota plowed up in my lifetime,” Mortenson said. Board member Wanda Blair of Vale said going up 10 cents might be setting up a future board for failure. Board member Bart Blum of Reliance said the increase is necessary because inspectors deserve to be paid. The board’s newest member, Scott Vance of Faith, said he’s seen improvements in theft investigations and service. “I’ve never seen this many proponents for anything the Brand Board has done,” Vance said. Chairman Mark Kimball of Platte said he hopes some eyes have been opened on the need to find ways to be more efficient and to economize. “We’re doing too many doggone trivial inspections out there,” he said. The Legislature’s rules review committee will consider the increase July 10. Stearns said that if all the steps fall into place, the fee increase will take effect Sept. 1.

State universities set budget priorities

The state Board of Regents, whose members govern South Dakota’s public universities, university centers and special schools, hold a budget roundtable Friday morning as part of the board’s public meeting at Dakota State University in Madison. The regents’ central office prepared a report outlining the priorities by campus for the fiscal 2014 budget request that will be submitted later this year and acted upon in the 2013 legislative session. The report covers more than 50 pages.

Black Hills State University seeks an additional $282,836 for student retention and success efforts; $235,832 (including $75,000 in one-time spending) to add a research officer and an environmental safety officer; and $89,970 to add a workforce development coordinator and secretary.

Dakota State University wants $154,375 for a research professor in health information technology; and $122,435 to add an assistant marketing position and expand marketing efforts.

Northern State University seeks $77,275 to improve student retention programs; $65,000 for recruitment marketing; and $35,000 for study-abroad offerings to students.

South Dakota School of Mines and Technology proposes $1,980,682 for expanded doctorate-program offerings with the University of South Dakota in physics; $1,367,500 for expanded research and related activities; and $232,500 for improving retention, recruitment and graduation rates.

South Dakota State University seeks $8,084,194 for a broad variety of academic and research equipment and program expansions; and another $26,292,676 for equipment, laboratory funding and staff.

SDSU also requests for the Agriculture Experiment Station programs $6,636,942 for research and teaching programs in health; $2,097,979 for plant research intended for energy development; and $964,823 for research on environmental sustainability and stewardship. In those three areas, SDSU also seeks respectively for Cooperative Extension Service increases of $269,600; $312,770; and $99,740.

University of South Dakota wants $1,980,682 in additional funding for the physics doctorate program to be shared among USD, School of Mines and Technology, and the trio of Black Hills State University, South Dakota State University and Dakota State University. USD also seeks $260,000 for programs to improve graduation rates.

USD also identified for the School of Medicine a package of ongoing and one-time funding totaling $4,517,127 for expansion of health-care professional faculty; and $3,197,389 for research infrastructure.

The School for the Blind and Visually Impaired seeks $140,000 to expand its outreach program.

The regents also listed some additional considerations. Those include $1,987,938 to increase the value of the Opportunity scholarships; $600,000 for veterans services; $3,500,000 for a research innovation fund; and $1,000,000 for student academic support.

The regents haven’t put numbers in writing yet, at least publicly, for salary policy and university performance funding.

 

PUC leaders face legislators Thursday

Today’s 10 a.m. news conference by state Public Utilities Commission chairman Chris Nelson and vice-chair Kristie Fiegen will serve as a run-through for perhaps tougher questions Thursday afternoon, when they have been asked to appear at 1 p.m. before the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee at the state Capitol. The lawmakers want to know why some producers’ financial positions weren’t protected in the Anderson Seed insolvency, whether South Dakota could benefit from having laws similar to North Dakota on this topic, and what changes the PUC is planning.

Grain warehouse laws were reformed in ’08 and ’09

Interesting tmes they live in, Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen, the two appointed members of the state Public Utilities Commission. As they officially embark on their election campaigns now that the South Dakota Republican Convention is completed and they are the nominees, they begin to roll out the PUC’s defense in the Anderson Seed financial meltdown. Those problems were well under way before Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed either Republican to the commission last year to fill the vacancies left by the abdications of Republican Dusty Johnson for a Daugaard chief of staff job and Democrat Steve Kolbeck for the private sector. Nonetheless Nelson and Fiegen get to defend the PUC’s role and explain the intricacies of what the PUC does and doesn’t regulate in grain marketing, and the two Democratic nominees for the PUC seats, Nick Nemec and Matt McGovern (Rowen) are smartly determined to make Nelson and Fiegen talk about Anderson Seed. So they shall, as we see from the announcement that Nelson and Fiegen plan a news conference tomorrow (Wednesday).

The defense is already under way as can be seen on the PUC website, where there’s a lengthy but concise set of explanations at http://www.puc.sd.gov/Warehouse/andersonseed.aspx on the Internet. The PUC bond required of Anderson Seed didn’t cover, and wasn’t supposed to cover under state law, many of the grain transactions that took place between producers and Anderson Seed. What’s also interesting to note in the PUC explanations are the references to changes made in state laws by the Legislature during the 2008 and 2009 session.

The 2008 changes were in a big package of legislation, five separate bills, specifically intended to modernize the grain buyer statutes in South Dakota. Four of those bills didn’t receive a negative vote in the Senate or the House of Representatives. The only nay votes — two in the Senate, three in the House — came on the bill raising the licensing and related fees. The 2009 changes came in a package of three separate bills. They didn’t get a single nay vote in either chamber. So, as recently as three and four years ago, the Legislature, the PUC at that time and the governor at that time, not to mention the ag producer groups and the grain traders, all thought the laws were updated and in good shape.

Evidently Anderson Seed also seemed to be in good financial shape. The PUC reports it didn’t receive any producer complaints of late payments in 2011. The PUC conducted a financial inspection of Anderson Seed’s books in mid-2011 and didn’t find anything amiss. Three complaints of slow payments were received from producers on Jan. 14, 2012, and the PUC determined the producers were later paid in full.  Because of those complaints, the PUC however also ordered a financial inspection that was conducted Jan. 17, 2012. The inspection found trouble brewing. The company’s license was suspended Feb. 17.

The Anderson Seed financial failure has exposed the hole in producer protection, however. Those are voluntary credit sales, where a producer knowingly agrees to a deferred pricing arrangement or deferred payment. Most of the producer losses in the Anderson Seed case reportedly fall in this category, rather than under the category of sales protected by the $100,000 bond. The news conference scheduled for Wednesday is being conducted as a PUC event, rather than as a campaign or political one. It will be held during a break in the Governor’s Ag Development Summit being held at the Ramkota in Pierre. The purpose is to discuss proposed changes the PUC will seek in state laws regarding grain buyers.

Another sudden surge in fuel shortages

The decision by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to temporarily waive the federal hours of service restrictions on transportation of petroleum products in South Dakota is in response to what his office determined as a shortage requiring an emergency action. At the same time the governor is promising to look into whether shortages actually exist, rather than simply rely on what petroleum industry officials tell him.

There has been a large number of such shortages all of a sudden. The governor has the authority to issue executive orders waiving the hours of service restrictions. This is the first in 2012. It covers gasoline, diesel, ethanol and propane, and runs from June 22 through July 9.

There were three such executive orders in 2011, issued back to back to back by Daugaard, waiving the restrictions from Sept. 2 through Nov. 30 for hauling gasoline, diesel, ethanol and propane.

In the three prior years, under Gov. Mike Rounds, such orders were relatively rare.

There was one in 2010, from Oct. 12 through Oct. 31, covering gasoline, diesel and propane. There were two back to back in 2009, from Nov. 9 through Dec. 5, covering only propane.  There was one in 2008, again only for propane, from Oct. 31 through Nov. 22.

In 2007, however, Rounds issued six orders back to back, spanning from July 3 through Dec. 7 covering gasoline, diesel, ethanol and propane.

Whatever happened to…

…the Governor’s Kids Cabinet? It was renewed by executive order on Feb. 1, 2008, by Gov. Mike Rounds to “identify issues, develop plans, develop methods to share information and recommend policies to the governor for the delivery of services to children and their parents.”