The Milwaukee road: Interstate sex traffic

Acting U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler announced one sentencing and one indictment regarding prostitution in Sioux Falls involving two men from Milwaukee. Jaquon Duckworth, 23, pleaded guilty and recently received a sentence of 10 months in federal custody, followed by two years of supervised release, for traveling from Wisconsin to Sioux Falls with a woman for the purpose of her engaging in prostitution activity. Justin Keith, 30, was indicted by a federal grand jury recently for sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion. He pleaded not-guilty. The crime carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, with a minimum mandatory sentence of 15 years in prison.

The Schoenbeck report

State Rep. Lee Schoenbeck weighs in, at some length, on South Dakota’s related matters of public school funding and teacher salaries. Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, wrote his report because of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on K-12 funding. It takes a while to read (he said he doesn’t plan a one-page “dashboard” that is favored by some lawmakers) but it’s worth the while.

Schoenbeck report

Hilde, Bullene reappointed to mining board

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has given additional terms to Linda Hilde of Madison and Pete Bullene of Watertown on the state Board of Minerals and Environment. Their new terms run until June 30, 2018. Hilde has served on the board since 1987. Bullene has been on the board since 2007. The board regulates mining in South Dakota and sets many of the pollution regulations.

State universities get most, but not all, of two sets of scholarship students

The Daugaard administration announced this morning the 65 recipients of critical-needs teaching scholarships and Dakota Corps scholarships. All six of the state universities will have at least one student among the 65 (presuming the students enroll as planned). A dozen of the students will attend one of South Dakota’s private universities and colleges, and one student plans to attend a public technical institute. Here are the breakdowns:

Critical needs teaching (25 total) — Augustana College 1, Dakota State University 1, Mount Marty College 5, Northern State University 3, South Dakota State University 8, University of South Dakota 7.

Dakota Corps (40 total) — Augustana College 3, Black Hills State University 1, Dakota State University 1, Dakota Wesleyan University 1, Lake Area Technical Institute 1, Northern State University 3, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology 15 (that’s not a misprint), South Dakota State University 12, University of Sioux Falls 2, University of South Dakota 1.

The critical-needs teaching scholarship, funded by the Legislature, promises two years of tuition and general fees for a total amount equal to 30 credit hours at a state university. In turn the student must teach in South Dakota for five years or have the scholarship turn into a loan. The critical-needs subjects are chosen by the state Department of Education, based on information from school districts.

The Dakota Corps scholarship, funded by private donations, promises tuition and general fees in exchange for working in a critical-need occupation such as special education, teaching high school courses such as math and science, teaching career and technical education courses, accountants, auditors, engineers (other than mining), registered nurses and information technology. Recipients must work one year for each year of scholarship, plus one additional year beyond.

These programs are designed to help guide more South Dakota students into key occupations.


State’s ‘presumptive probation’ policy is upheld

The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled unanimously in a new decision this week in favor of a state law that requires circuit judges to sentence an offender in most instances to probation, rather than prison time, for Class 5 and Class 6 felonies.

In a Brookings County case, Sierra Anderson pleaded guilty to distribution of three quarters of a gram of methamphetamine, a Class 4 felony, and pleaded guilty to possession of one quarter of a gram of meth, a Class 5 felony. Circuit Judge Gregory Stoltenburg sentenced Anderson to six years in prison with two suspended for the distribution. For the possession crime, the judge sentenced her to four years in prison with two suspended. She appealed the possession sentence because the judge didn’t give her probation.

Judge Stoltenburg provided a long list of reasons he found probation to be inappropriate for her (see his reasons on page 2 of the decision from the Supreme Court). Anderson’s lawyer contended Stoltenburg’s departure from the presumption of probation was unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court justices follow a long path to justify their 5-0 decision to uphold the circuit judge’s decision. The final major point in the decision written by Justice Glen Severson turns on separation of powers between branches of government:

“Anderson was sentenced to six years in the penitentiary with two years
suspended for the distribution charge and could not have been placed on probation
for the possession charge because doing so would have subjected her to
simultaneous supervision of the executive and judicial branches. We have
previously reversed such sentences.”

Presumptive probation, as it’s become known, was a key piece of the 2013 public-safety improvement act crafted in 2012, and adopted by the Legislature in 2013, as a way to slow down the growth of South Dakota’s prison-inmate populations.


LRC estimates one effect of marijuana de-criminalization

We won’t know for a while whether South Dakota voters will face a ballot measure that would change the criminal penalties for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. Based on past ballot measures dealing with marijuana issues, it seems likely the latest will receive sufficient signatures from registered voters to qualify for the November 2016 election ballot. The proposal would eliminate the state penalties and impose a $100 civil penalty for adults and require minors to attend a drug awareness program. State Attorney General Marty Jackley has issued his ballot explanation (“Marijuana possession remains illegal under federal law,,” he notes) and the Legislative Research Council has now performed an analysis of the potential impact on prisons and jails. The LRC estimated there would be 3,174 fewer convictions annually, with an estimated reduction of prison and jail costs totaling $731,742 each year. The LRC analysis didn’t consider other financial effects.

The inherent flaw in the proposal for a redistricting commission

Once again some Democrats in the blog world take issue with an analysis from this reporter. No, I’m not a Republican, nor am I a shill for the Republican Party, contrary to their accusations. That aside, here’s the inherent problem with the current proposal for a constitutional amendment to create a redistricting commission that would set boundaries for legislative districts.

The proposed constitutional amendment would put the power to select the commission members in the hands of the state Board of Elections. The commission is intended to be balanced between three Republicans, three Democrats and three other registered voters who aren’t members of those two largest political parties. The flaw comes in giving the state Board of Elections the authority to select those nine commissioners. The state Board of Elections is a partisan board.

The state Board of Elections is a creation of the Legislature. The Legislature sets the qualifications to serve on the state board and designates the officials who choose the state board members. Here is the law. The state board has seven members. The Legislature’s four caucus leaders each picks one. The House speaker picks two, a county auditor from each party, nominated by county auditors meeting at the South Dakota Association of County Officials.  If all follow the normal path, the state board would have three Republicans and three Democrats. And the seventh member is the secretary of state, who serves as chairman for the state board, and who is elected as a partisan candidate in a statewide election. The last Democrat elected as secretary of state in South Dakota was Lorna Herseth. That was in 1974, the same year that South Dakota last elected a Democrat as governor in Dick Kneip.

So the state board, by law, is inherently partisan 4-3, with the swing vote belonging to the political party of the secretary of state. The catch is nothing prevents the Legislature from changing the state law regarding how the state board members are appointed. The majority party in the Legislature could amend the law to skew the state board into a greater imbalance. In turn, voters could refer such a change to a statewide election; so the Legislature’s power isn’t absolute, but the opportunity is there.

The state board was often ignored by the previous secretary of state, Jason Gant. The board was essentially overrun this year by the Legislature’s Republican majorities, who inserted many changes into legislation that was supposedly the board’s bill (although its genesis was with the current secretary of state, Shantel Krebs). Now that legislation is on hold until a referral vote in the 2016 general election.

Looking into the future, the unintended consequence of this proposed constitutional amendment might be greater politicization of the state Board of Elections. At the least, those board appointments will become much more important.

There is another potential crack in the proposed constitutional amendment. It says the state board must make its selections for the commission from a pool of 30 applicants — but anyone can apply if they meet the qualifications. More precisely, there will be three pools of 10. Who decides if a Republican applicant is No. 10 or No. 11 and thereby makes the pool or is excluded from the pool? Likewise for the two pools of Democratic and other applicants.

There’s nothing wrong with asking voters if they prefer a nine-member commission rather than the Legislature’s majority party setting boundaries for legislative districts. Under the proposal, the real power will come down to the secretary of state, who would cast the swing votes on choosing the commission members, including the three “other” commission members, who would cast the swing votes on the final plan. The ultimate authority on a highly partisan matter would be three people who didn’t register as members of the two largest parties — and who might owe their seats on the commission to the secretary of state.

The most interesting piece of the South Dakota Farmers Union proposal is this requirement: “Party registration and voting history shall be excluded from the redistricting process. The places of residence of incumbents or candidates shall not be identified or considered.”

Those seeking more balance in the Legislature will probably support the proposed commission. How the commission would engineer more balance, when Republicans have a 70,000 advantage in registered voters over Democrats, and when neither registration nor residency can be considered, isn’t clear.

Living on the edge and Democrats’ survival

By my count there are 22 legislative districts in South Dakota that have only Republicans serving and two legislative districts that have only Democrats serving. The remaining 11 have mixtures of Republicans and Democrats. If you look at a map of the 35 legislative districts, and lay atop the districts the party affiliations of their legislators, the pattern becomes clear. Many of the districts that abut South Dakota’s eastern and southern borders, or include a reservation area, have at least one Democratic legislator. The districts that touch the western border have no Democrats serving. This is political geography.

It comes to mind in light of the South Dakota Farmers Union seeking to amend the state constitution regarding the drawing of legislative district boundaries. Farmers Union wants to strip the authority from the Legislature and give the power to an appointed commission whose members would be three Republicans, three Democrats and three people who aren’t registered with those two parties.

There’s no question Republicans have drawn the lines to their advantage in recent decades. But how much advantage should be examined. They jammed Democrat Paul Dennert into a difficult position, and he lost to another incumbent, Republican Al Novstrup, in 2012. But Republicans would have much more difficulty if Democrats had more registered voters throughout South Dakota. We’ve shown the numbers month after month indicating the Democratic brand isn’t attracting new voters. Democrats have lost ground while Republicans hold relatively steady and independents grow and grow. The legislative districts reflect the political reality that three huge blocks of South Dakota geography are densely Republican: The expanse west of the reservations and Rapid City itself; the expanse of the north-central east of the Missouri River; and metro Sioux Falls. There is only so much that Republicans can do at the edges. And those districts that touch the boundaries in the east and south are where Democrats continue to be elected.

A nine-person commission can’t change that geography. Only the South Dakota Democratic Party can by registering many, many more voters. The count as of July 1 was: Republicans 243,173; Democrats 175,335; and others 109,742.  For Democrats to draw even with Republicans, Democrats would need to add a net average of 2,000 registrations across the 35 districts. (That doesn’t reflect the individual numbers in each district.)

The count in the Legislature meanwhile is 85 Republicans and 20 Democrats. Only the South Dakota Democratic Party can change that by running candidates who are attractive, willing to work hard, can raise sufficient money and have politically acceptable ideas. Those characteristics describe most of the 20 Democratic legislators. The 85-20 ratio isn’t a result of corruptly drawing district lines.

Repeating an idea on teacher salary

About one-fourth of the $21.5 million surplus that state government transferred into its budget reserve fund from the 2015 fiscal year that ended June 30 came from money appropriated to state aid for public schools. In other words, $5 million was supposed to go to K-12 but didn’t, because enrollments weren’t as high as forecast, and property tax base grew more than forecast. Spread across 10,000 teachers and classroom personnel, the $5 million could have been a summer bonus of $500. All it would have taken — or take, in future summers — is a provision in state law that says the leftover state-aid money is distributed evenly among teachers and classroom personnel who were employed on the final day of classes by the school districts. In some years, there might not be a bonus. In other years, the amount of the bonus would vary. But the “extra” money would wind up with the people working in the classrooms, rather than in a reserve fund we hope state government never needs to touch again.

JRWDD doesn’t want tax increase

There’s some history to this. The board of directors for the James River water development district set its 2016 budget request last week and held its revenue amount at $958,893 from property taxes. That is the same level since at least 2012, according to board minutes. The board made management changes in 2012 that realigned salaries to a lower level overall. Water development districts have been working under a tighter tax limit since 2010 when the Legislature ordered rollbacks. In some cases, districts had used a loophole in a state law prior to 2010 to raise extra taxes. That was before legislation sponsored by Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, (then a senator, now a House member) closed the loophole and forced the rollback. Legislators at the time weren’t pleased with exploitation of the loophole. The water district boards heard the message. The James River board members to their credit haven’t taken the inflation factor available to them in recent years. The James River district’s budget hearing will be Sept. 10 in Aberdeen.