SDEA elections are underway

The South Dakota Education Association members are electing a new president to succeed Sandy Arseneault of Custer. Campaigning for the post are Mary McCorkle, a language arts teacher at Mobridge-Pollock high school, and Bonnie Mehlbrech, a high school special education teacher at Sioux Falls. McCorkle currently is South Dakota’s delegate to the National Education Association and Mehlbrech currently is SDEA treasurer.

Seeking the vice presidency are Steve O’Brien, a language arts teacher at Watertown high school, and Linda Mallory, a middle school mathematics teacher at Spearfish. Both currently serve on the SDEA board of directors. The current vice president is Janelle Gregg, a high school English teacher at Sisseton.

Competing for the post of National Education Association delegate are Barbara Lindquist of Tyndall, where she is special education coordinator for the Bon Homme school district, and Kathy Meyer, a kindergarten teacher at Huron. SDEA uses mail-in ballots. The election began April 5 and ballots must be postmarked by midnight April 21.

SDEA’s new leadership will be in an important spot in the coming months and next year as the Legislature possibly embarks on a sustained effort to improve teacher salaries in South Dakota.

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Larry Pressler pays his own way

Former U.S. Sen. Larry Pressler isn’t attracting much money in campaign donations for his run as an independent for the Senate this year. He issued a news release this morning reporting that he received $9,580 from individual contributors in the first three months of 2014, while he loaned his campaign $29,873.61. He said his expenses for the quarter were $28,760. Pressler, as a Republican, held a Senate seat for South Dakota from 1979 through 1996. He was defeated in 1996 by Democrat Tim Johnson, who’s held the seat since then but isn’t seeking re-election this year. Pressler will be on the November ballot with Democratic candidate Rick Weiland and one of the five Republicans seeking their party’s nomination in the June 3 primary election. There also is the possibility that another independent will be on the ballot, such as Republican former legislator Gordon Howie of Rapid City, who vows to run if state Rep. Stace Nelson doesn’t win the Republican primary.

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EPA wants conflict rule adopted

South Dakota law already covers this, according to officials at the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. However, they haven’t told the federal Environmental Protection Agency about the law (1-40-25.1). So on Thursday, April 17, the state Board of Minerals and Environment holds a public hearing on adopting a conflict of interest rule that EPA is now requiring from all states regarding clean-air regulations that states enforce on behalf of EPA. Assuming the proposed rules are adopted by the state board, there would be two specific sections in state rules dealing with direct and indirect (see final two pages of proposal) conflicts of interest and the requirements for recusal from a contested case hearing on a clean-air permit. The hearing is set for 10 a.m. CDT Thursday at the Matthew Center in Pierre located in the DENR building at 523 E. Capitol Avenue, next to Hyde Stadium. Written comments on the proposed rule must be received by the department no later than the close of business on Wednesday, April 16. Comments also can be entered directly via the Internet at this spot on DENR’s web site.

This rule proposal is also an opportunity to note once again that state government now has a single location on the Internet ( where the agencies under the governor’s authority post their rule proposals. The governor has invited other state agencies and offices to use the site too as a one-stop public-information site on rules and rule changes. Also, DENR’s rules site is noteworthy for its public-comment feature. The DENR location is and you can sign up there for public notices by e-mail on permit applications and rule changes, and you can sign up at for e-mail notifications on all rule proposals. These are two relatively new features adopted under the Daugaard administration in the past few years.

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A word of warning: I’ve been hacked

If you received an e-mail from my Bobmercer1 account in recent days, beware. The word from several people on Friday was my account had been hacked and someone was using my address book to distribute e-mails under my name, with the only content a link. Don’t open that link (I don’t know what it is, but it can’t be good). I don’t send e-mails with only a link for the message. Please accept my apology if you have received this hacker-spam. And please consider yourself fortunate if this cyberattack missed you.

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Change ahead for Open Meetings Commission

Newspaper reporters, editors and publishers, and their broadcast counterparts, need to look back in time to understand how far South Dakota has come in the past decade regarding open meetings and public records. Much of that progress can be traced to Circuit Judge Larry Long during the years he was state attorney general starting in 2003. The state’s Open Meetings Commission was created in law in 2004. The modern processes for obtaining public records and appealing for their release were put in law in 2008. Long, whose father was a publisher of a weekly newspaper, had much to do with both. You could say he had some ink in his blood — and a lot of democracy too. One of Long’s allies naturally was David Bordewyk, executive director for the South Dakota Newspaper Association. Another important figure was Sen. Dave Knudson, R-Sioux Falls. In fact, nearly all members of the Legislature strongly supported the changes.

One of the lawyers on Long’s staff, Diane Best, was assigned to the Open Meetings Commission. Long stepped down as attorney general in 2009 to accept an appointment from then-Gov. Mike Rounds to be a circuit judge in Minnehaha County. Rounds appointed former U.S. Attorney Marty Jackley as attorney general. We now have indication from Attorney General Jackley that Diane Best will be retiring. Jackley spoke briefly about this Friday during the South Dakota Newspaper Association convention. He didn’t disclose the name of her successor in regard to the Open Meetings Commission.

Diane Best did a solid job. Jackley’s choice will be of importance to news reporters but much more so to the general public. Many of the complaints taken to the commission since its creation came from citizens questioning the actions of their school, county, municipal and township officials.  The commission operates under the attorney general’s authority. Its five members are state’s attorneys from counties. They are appointed by the attorney general. Watching them on occasion left this reporter with the sense the five are practical and fair-minded people who look  foremost to see whether the law was followed and want proof.

The commission’s record of actions from 2004 through 2013 is 27 findings of violations and 13 findings of no violations or lack of jurisdiction.  There have been as many as seven cases in a year and as few as two. The summary provides a report on each case. The five most-recent members were John Steele of Aurora County, Mark Reedstrom of Grant County, Lisa Rothschadl of Bon Homme County, Emily Sovell of Sully County and Kevin Krull of Meade County. Since the commission’s mid-2013 decisions (one violation, one no-violation), a new complaint hasn’t been filed.


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Some insight from Iowa…

A recent survey of Iowa residents by Summit University found Hillary Clinton was the overwhelming favorite at this point for Democratic presidential nomination (and Elizabeth Warren was a very distant second), while Republicans were splintered a dozen different ways, with no one truly in front. The top tier had Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz all within three votes of each other. But here are three other findings something that might be more significant:

1) Asked about the economy over the past two years, 42.5 percent said it improved and 38.5 percent said it stayed the same;

2) Asked about whether the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare was generally good for Iowa, 37.5 percent said good and 48.25 percent said bad; and

3) Asked about whether voters should be required to show photo i.d. at polling places, 66.38 percent supported and 26.75 percent opposed.

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Lottery Commission splits over video lottery promotions

Back on April 30, 1991, the South Dakota Lottery Commission adopted a declaratory ruling that limited marketing promotions by video lottery establishments. On Thursday, the commission tried to repeal that ruling. The vote was 3-2 in favor. The commission has seven members. Two weren’t at the meeting. The validity of that vote is now in question.

The Lottery Commission is trying to increase video-lottery play. That means players lose more money. Net machine income is split between state government and the private owners of the machines and establishments. The commission is looking for ways to allow the establishments to encourage people to bet more money — and lose more money. That’s not meant as criticism, but that’s how video lottery works.

The 1991 ruling is clear:

“No person may award monetary or merchandise prizes for any card or number
combination other than the prize amount specified in the pay table and game rules. No person
may advertise or award any prize or item of value that requires as consideration the play of a
video lottery machine.

“The regulations require that the rules of play and credits awarded for the occurrence of winning
combinations must be approved by the Lottery and displayed on the machine face or screen.
(ARSD 48:02:08:01(12)). Payout percentages exceeding 92 percent of the amount wagered are
not authorized by the Commission. (ARSD 48:02:08:03(3)). Any prize or item of value awarded
a player other than the amount stated in the game’s rules would be in violation of these rules and
reflect adversely on the security and integrity of the Lottery.”

Stripping away the 1991 ruling is essential to the South Dakota Lottery’s new promotional drive attempting to get more people to play and get people to play more.

The Lottery began a video-lottery advertising campaign in February. It focuses on markets where there are other types of gambling such as Deadwood and tribal casinos in South Dakota and border casinos in other states. As one example, the Lottery advertised in a weekly newspaper for the first time in order to reach the North Sioux City and Dakota Dunes market.

The Lottery also is preparing a series of YouTube tutorials on how to use each manufacturer’s video lottery terminals. Those will be launched later this month.

The Lottery is arranging for promotional items, from tee shirts to bar coasters, that can be used by video lottery establishments.

At the commission meeting Thursday, the members reviewed a two-page “promotions policy” dated January 2014 that provides examples of what establishments could do. The policy statement says establishments should post their own promotion rules in their places of business. “It is at the establishment’s discretion as to whether the promotion shall be restricted to only customers playing video lottery machines or be open to all customers,” the policy statement says.

Examples listed on the policy statement include happy-hour food or drink specials, free video lottery play to certain groups, coupons for free video lottery play, free video lottery play with other purchases such as gas purchases, players-club points systems that provide awards such as free video lottery play, food or drink, prize wheels and drawings, and prize awards based on video lottery play.

The policy statement covers other topics such as use of the South Dakota Lottery logo and promotional prizes which the Lottery will provide to establishments. “The Lottery has available limited quantities of video lottery merchandise (shirts, caps, mugs, etc.) that may be used for prize giveaways. We would also be happy to promote the Event on our lottery website ( and through our Facebook and Twitter accounts,” the statement says.

(To see the policy statement and the declaratory ruling, click here. Scroll through the documents to exhibits D and E.)

The vote Thursday was interesting to watch. Initially the motion for approval by Chuck Turbiville of Deadwood struggled to get a second. Roger Novotny of Fort Pierre seconded it after silence and then prompting by chairman Bob Hartford of Pierre that a second was necessary. The motion would have died without a second. The voice vote was inconclusive, so Hartford proceeded to a roll call. Turbiville and Novotny voted aye while Doyle Estes of Hill City and Jim Putnam of Armour voted no. Hartford then voted aye.

The question is whether a majority of the commissioners present, or a majority of the commissioners in total, was necessary to repeal the 1991 declaratory ruling. Several hours after the meeting, and after a reporter’s question, the Lottery’s legal counsel Andrew Fergel concluded that it should be a majority of the commissioners rather than a majority of those present.

If a majority of all commissioners was required, the motion to repeal the declaratory ruling failed because it didn’t receive four aye votes. How the Lottery’s administration, headed by executive director Norm Lingle and deputy Clark Hepper, proceeds until the next meeting will be worth watching.

Hartford, the retired head of the South Dakota Music and Vending Association, left no doubt about his position regarding the 1991 ruling. “We are taking down a fence that should be taken down, in my opinion,” he said.

The commission’s two other members are Brent Dykstra of Fort Pierre and Jim Towler of Dakota Dunes. If the other five commissioners hold their ayes and nays, an aye from either of the two missing commissioners would approve the repeal of the 1991 ruling.


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South Dakota gets B+ for gov’t transparency

Every rating system has its own criteria, so you can be the judge of whether the Boston-based U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) has the right priorities in its analysis of state governments’ on-line transparency of financial records. South Dakota received a B+ in the latest round of ratings, scoring 89.5 on a scale of 100. Last round South Dakota received a 70.

Where South Dakota didn’t do so well? Records aren’t fully downloadable; quasi-public agencies aren’t tracked at the same level as state agencies; and actual public benefits of economic development subsidies aren’t reported at all. The last one seems easy to meet. Its four points (South Dakota received a zero) more than made the difference between B+ and A- (range of 90 to 94).

No state reached the 95 score necessary for a grade of A. Indiana nearly did at 94. Others in the A- category were Oregon 93.5, Florida 92.5, Texas 91, Massachusetts 90.5, Iowa 90, Vermont 90 and Wisconsin 90. Twenty states were in the B category; among them were South Dakota’s neighbors Montana at 86 and Nebraska at 82.

Elsewhere in our region, Wyoming received a C at 68 and Minnesota D+ at 64.

Here is the report so you can see for yourself the rating system — and which three states received grades of F.

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In Sioux Falls city races, one legislator wins

Among current and past state legislators who were candidates there for city government, only state Rep. Christine Erickson, a Republican, won election to the Sioux Falls city council Tuesday. Another current legislator, state Rep. Manny Steele, also a Republican, placed second in a three-way race won by incumbent Rex Rolfing.

Erickson, 36, is finishing her first term in the House. Steele, 74, is finishing his fourth term in the House.

Two other former legislators lost in their council contests. Erickson defeated Dennis Pierson, a Democratic former senator. Pierson, 68, last served in the Legislature in 1994. Rebecca Dunn, a Democratic former senator, lost in her challenge to incumbent Michelle Erpenbach. Dunn, 68, last served in the Legislature in 2000.

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Two cities go opposite directions on “TWD” bans

That’s texting while driving (somebody had to find a shortcut phrase). Now that the Legislature has adopted a state law against texting while driving on South Dakota’s streets and highways, Mitchell’s city council is preparing to repeal the local ordinance that is actually tougher — and the Rapid City’s city council is adopting an ordinance that is tougher than the state ban.

Mitchell council members voted 4-2 Monday night to adopt the repeal on first reading; passage on second reading is required next. In Mitchell one of the council members, Phil Carlson, is an attorney and it’s his opinion that Mitchell’s current ban wouldn’t stand up in state court. That’s the line of legal reasoning taken by the state law’s prime sponsor, Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City. Gosch’s point goes back to a Huron case where a woman’s drunk-driving arrest was thrown out because the city’s requirement to use turn signals was tougher than the state law.

But in Rapid City, retiring Police Chief Steve Allender has continued to push for a texting ban tougher than the Gosch law. The Rapid City council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a texting ban that is tougher than the state law.

The proposed Rapid City ordinance and the existing Mitchell ordinance both designate texting while driving as a primary offense. A law enforcement officer can stop a motorist and write a ticket for illegal texting. The state law makes texting while driving a secondary offense, meaning a law enforcement officer can write a texting ticket only if the motorist has been stopped for some other reason. Under the state law, simply texting isn’t sufficient legal cause for an officer to stop a motorist. The Mitchell fine is $120, while the state law’s fine will be $100. The Rapid City fine would be $100. The last time I checked, Pennington County and Aberdeen, Watertown, Mitchell, Vermillion, Huron, Box Elder, Brookings and Sioux Falls had local texting ordinances.

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