State-tribal panel talks possible topics

The alleged thefts from Gear Up, methamphetamine abuse, state Brand Board regulations and membership, and holding a summer meeting on an Indian reservation comprised themes Wednesday that members of the Legislature’s State-Tribal Relations Committee said they want to pursue.

Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, urged the panel to look into Gear Up. So did Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, and Rep. Elizabeth May, R-Kyle. The Gear Up program reportedly received more than $60 million in federal pass-through grants while it was managed by Mid Central Educational Cooperative at Platte.

The program is intended to make lower-income students and their families better informed about educational opportunities after high school graduation. In South Dakota, the co-op aimed the program’s services at American Indian students on or near some reservations.

Melody Schopp, secretary for the South Dakota Department of Education, decided in September 2015 that Mid Central’s contract wouldn’t be renewed. She moved the program under Black Hills State University at Spearfish.

May meanwhile also called on the legislative panel to look at tribal livestock-brand laws. She said they have been lacking or aren’t enforced by tribal governments in parts of Indian country that are under both tribal and state jurisdiction. The Missouri River generally is the line in South Dakota where South Dakota laws apply west of the river.

She noted that the state Brand Board evidently doesn’t have a tribal member as one of its members.

Rep. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, asked the committee to consider holding a meeting this summer or fall on one of the reservations. “If invited,” he emphasized. As a former police chief for Rapid City, he is aware of the cultural significance of holding a meeting in Indian country without an invitation.

The committee chose Sen. Troy Heinert of Mission as its chair and May as the vice-chair. Heinert, who is a Rosebud tribal member, became the only Democratic member of the Legislature to run a committee. The panel has two other tribal members among its members in Sen. Kevin Killer, D-Pine Ridge, and Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission.

The other committee members are Rep. Don Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, and Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade. All attended the meeting Wednesday.

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About Bob Mercer

I am a newspaper reporter in Pierre where I cover state government, issues and politics for the Aberdeen American News, the Black Hills Pioneer, the Mitchell Daily Republic, the Pierre Capital Journal, the Rapid City Journal, the Watertown Public Opinion and the Yankton Press & Dakotan. I began covering the Legislature in 1985 and have lived in Pierre since December 1986. I grew up in Wisconsin, worked my way through college, took my first full-time newspapers jobs in Wyoming, and have lived in South Dakota since the summer of 1984 when I moved to Aberdeen to join the American News. I worked for the Rapid City Journal as its state government reporter in Pierre from late 1992 through late 1998. I spent four years as press secretary and a senior aide to Gov. Bill Janklow during his fourth and final term from late 1998 through 2002. I returned to journalism in January 2003 as a self-employed reporter, providing state government coverage to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre and, depending on the year, Aberdeen newspapers. In 2008, the Aberdeen American News offered to hire me as full-time member of the AAN staff, with my reports continuing to be available to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre, Yankton and Rapid City papers. The new arrangement has been in effect since January 2009 as the seven papers continue their remarkable dedication to their readers and the general public, as the only South Dakota news outlets with a full-time reporter covering state government in Pierre throughout the year. In addition to focusing on the Legislature during the annual winter session and its various activities during the interim periods between sessions, I spend many days throughout the year -- traveling as often necessary -- to cover state government boards and commissions which oversee the state universities, technical institutes, outdoors, water, environment, business, public schools, banking, agriculture, utilities, health care and various other areas of public interest. I purposely don't register to vote because of my profession; the last time I recall voting in a presidential election was the first time, 1976, when I had just turned 18. I think I voted for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. Make of that what you want, just don't make much of it.

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