The ‘Emerald City’ reference

In the Hilger’s Gulch post I referred to the Emerald City aka Pierre and Fort Pierre. That is the name given to Pierre about a decade ago by court reporter Cameron Johnston in his book about the Brown County courthouse, as well as the circuit and Supreme Court. “The Rock of Justice” is a fun read and is even better if you know something about South Dakota’s courts systems and some of the personalities who have peopled it. His various references to South Dakota communities are treats as well. (Aberdeen, for example, seems to be High Hopes. Only Sioux Falls could be Magnum Opus.) If you want to learn more about the author and the book, well, there is a website that is a treat too. Emerald City, by the way, was the capital in The Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum who spent time as a newspaperman in Aberdeen long, long ago.

The green insurrection

This poster is making the rounds in Emerald City (aka Pierre and Fort Pierre). It reflects the grassroots revolt against Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan to convert Hilger’s Gulch back to a natural-appearing expanse from the well-kept lawn it’s been for decades. You can read the governor’s news release here. The Daugaard administration kept the plan secret until it was delivered as fait accompli to the Capitol Complex Restoration and Beautification Commission. The commission in an earlier incarnation stopped the installation of playing-field lights for the soccer complex at the north end of the gulch even though the changes had support from members of the Rounds family. Now some of the same commission members are battling against the Daugaard conversion plan. This is putting some people in city government in tough spots. It brings to mind the saying, “You’re not from here, are you?”



Regents assign committee to look at UCs

The state Board of Regents didn’t come to any sure solutions during discussions in recent days about enrollment problems at the university centers in Sioux Falls and Pierre. But regent Kevin Schieffer of Sioux Falls suggested the appointment of a committee to look deeper, especially for Sioux Falls. The regents liked the idea. Schieffer will chair the effort. He said he plans to contact leaders in the Sioux Falls area for their perspectives and assistance. Similar approaches at the four public technical institutes have paid off in Watertown, Mitchell, Rapid City and Sioux Falls. Schieffer will report back to the full board at its Oct. 6-8 meeting.

An important message from Justice Zinter

This came out in last week’s round of South Dakota Supreme Court decisions but didn’t receive the attention that it should have (including from me). Justice Steve Zinter in a special concurrence raises the big point about whether the court should engage in a big-picture review of the powers of the state Board of Pardons and Paroles in relation to the state’s circuit court judges on sentence conditions. Zinter suggests the court “may have strayed from constitutional and statutory limitations on the Board’s power to condition and revoke a circuit court’s suspended sentence.” The state constitution grants the circuit courts the authority to suspend sentences, but once a criminal enters the state’s prison system, the criminal is under the executive branch including the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Zinter raises the fundamental question of how the board came to have the power to revoke suspended sentences for violations of conditions set by the board — not the sentencing judge. This raises 30 years of questions, according to the justice. The case is Cole Kelley v. South Dakota Board of Pardons and Paroles. Kelley appealed the board’s revocation of his suspended sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed the board’s action 5-0. The main decision was written by Justice Glen Severson. It would seem a simple solution — and it would need action by the Legislature — is to create a step where the board sends a recommendation to the sentencing judge and the judge then holds a revocation hearing. But I’m no lawyer.

Regents make tuition freeze the priority

You can read the story here in the Aberdeen American News. The state Board of Regents agreed by consensus Tuesday on the 50-50 goal and put a tuition freeze at the top of the budget request list for the state universities. The list now goes to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who will decide what he wants to recommend from the list to the Legislature in his December budget speech.

The 50/50 goal for state-university students

While the governor’s Blue Ribbon task force on K-12 education has focused the attention of many legislators, and has stirred discussion of tax increases to increase the pay of teachers who currently rank last in the nation for average salary, the state Board of Regents doesn’t want to left with an empty plate in the 2016 legislative session. The regents this week will approve a formal request to the governor for budget increases. Topping the list of recommendations from the state universities’ administrators is a tuition freeze for students. In 2014, when the state treasury seemed flusher, Gov. Dennis Daugaard made a tuition freeze a priority for the state universities and a tuition buy-down a priority for the public technical institutes. The Legislature agreed. But this year, when the regents again wanted a tuition freeze, the governor didn’t recommend it. And by no coincidence, the Legislature didn’t pay for the second year of the freeze. This week, the regents will discuss whether to put the tuition freeze at the top of their list again to request from the governor. Currently, students at South Dakota’s state universities pay 58 percent of their education expense, while state government covers 42 percent. The ratio had been the opposite — approximately 52 percent state and 48 percent student — until about 2008, when it flipped to 51 percent student and 49 percent state. Since then, the gap broadened, with more and more shifted onto the student; the widest point came in 2012 when the student was responsible for 62 percent and the state 38 percent. The ratio was 58 percent student and 42 percent state in fiscal 2014, which covered the 2013-2014 academic year, and the freeze followed. The goal the regents hope to reach is 50-50. According to a briefing sheet prepared by regents’ central staff, the average net tuition for state-university students in South Dakota is $8,221 while the national average is $6,267. South Dakota’s state-supported tuition is higher for students than all of the neighboring states. You can look at all of the regents’ possible budget priorities here. The road map for the regents calls for taking three years to get closer to 50-50. For the coming budget year of 2017 (we’re now in fiscal 2016) covering the 2016-2017 academic year, the tuition freeze would require about $4.7 million to provide a 3 percent salary policy, an additional 1 percent for salary improvement for faculty and to cover inflation for standard operations and expenses. The regents’ budget discussion is set for Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 11) as part of their planning retreat at River Rock Lodge east of Pierre. From there, they head to the governor’s mansion for a reception, then return to work Wednesday morning for tuition, funding and scholarship talks. It will be a big 24 hours for the future of South Dakota’s public university system.

The real season begins for Twins

Seriously, the better team won — and won, and won, and won — when the Minnesota Twins lost four games in a row this week at Toronto. The Blue Jays roared past the Twins into the American League’s second wild-card slot. Both teams won on Friday night, as Torii Hunter homered in the ninth for a 10-9 Minnesota victory over Cleveland. The Blue Jays are making a run at the AL East leader, the New York Yankees, this weekend. The Twins are a better team than Cleveland right now and have a chance to win some games they should this weekend.

Toronto was at 59-52 after beating the Yankees 2-1 on Friday night. Los Angeles is 58-50, a matter of percentage points ahead of Toronto. Those two teams are now in the front seat for the two AL wild-card seeds. Baltimore is 55-53, Minnesota 55-54 and Texas 54-54. The three division leaders are New York at 61-47 in the East; Kansas City at 64-44 in the Central (9.5 games ahead of the Twins); and Houston at 61-50 in the West. The Twins’ schedule for the remainder of August has series against Texas, Cleveland again, New York, Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Houston. Come Monday, Aug. 31, which is a day off for Minnesota, we’ll know whether September matters for the Twins.

Guess which party lost registered voters again?

The monthly update of South Dakota voter registration from the Secretary of State office shows Democrats slipping once again.

As of Aug. 3, Republicans had 243,714, up from 243,173 on July 1. Democrats lost ground, dropping to 175,287 from 175,335. And all others, primarily independents, climbed to 110,749 from 109,742 a month ago.

Since November, Republicans increased by about 3,200, Democrats decreased by about 900 and others/independents rose by more than 8,300.

In the grey zone of ‘fraudulent contrivance’

In light of the fake petitions circulating on the payday-loan issue at the Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls, this state law is interesting:

12-26-12. Persecution, threats, or intimidation to influence vote as misdemeanor–Obstruction of voter on way to polls. A person who directly or indirectly, intentionally, by force or violence, or by unlawful arrest, or by any abduction, duress, damage, harm, or loss, or by any forcible or fraudulent contrivance, or by threats to do or employ any of them, or by threats of bringing civil suit or criminal prosecution, withdrawal of customs or dealing in business or trade, or enforcing payment of debts, or by any kind of injury or threat of injury inflicted or to be inflicted on any voter or person to influence any voter, and attempted, done, or threatened, or caused to be attempted, done, or threatened by any person in his own behalf or in behalf of any other person or question voted upon or to be voted upon at any election, for the purpose of preventing, causing, or intimidating a voter to vote or refrain from voting for or against any person or question, or who does or causes to be done any of such things because of a voter having voted or refrained from voting on any such matter, or who intentionally and without lawful authority obstructs, hinders, or delays a voter on his way to any poll where an election is to be held, is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.

State law contains an entire chapter “OFFENSES AGAINST THE ELECTIVE FRANCHISE” at 12-26. Many, many activities are covered. A fake petition doesn’t seem to be specifically listed.

Found in the social news: Stofferahns and Welkes

Looking Monday for the sudoku puzzle in the Sunday edition of the Aberdeen American News after its mail arrival, I came across two neat bits of news of a different type on the same page as the puzzle. The first was the 40th-anniversary announcement for Chuck and Ellen Welke of Warner. He’s a Democratic former state senator. They marked their day Sunday. The second was the 50th-anniversary announcement for Ken and Diane Stofferahn, now of Lincoln, Neb. A Democrat, he was elected three times to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission and served from 1979 through 1996. Their day is Friday.