Split Legislative Crackerbarrel Meeting in Rapid City

The second legislative crackerbarrel meeting of 2017 in Rapid City was held at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology this morning. Unlike crackerbarrel meetings in the past, this one was split, with several conservative legislators attending a new and separate meeting.

During the last crackerbarrel meeting two weeks ago, South Dakota Senator Phil Jensen announced that if the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce did not go back to their original format which allowed people to ask questions directly of legislators, several of the legislators would not attend future Chamber crackerbarrel meetings.

Brian Fischer of KIMM Radio in Rapid City of Rapid City officiated the new meeting, which was hosted by the College Republicans of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Legislators in attendance at the new crackerbarrel meeting were Senator Lance Russell, Rep. Julie Frye-Mueller, Senator Phil Jensen, and Rep Chip Campbell. Frye-Mueller said some other legislators planned to attend the College Republicans’ meeting in the future, but had made previous commitments to attend the Chamber of Commerce one that they wanted to honor first.

Russell was the first speaker, and he said the legislature had been “raucous” the last couple of weeks. He was referring to the spirited debate in the legislature on repealing Initiated Measure 22, the campaign ballot measure passed by the voters last November. Russell said he would have been able to support the effort under certain circumstances, i.e. if the repeal effort was brought in several separate measures which targeted the unconstitutional and problematic aspects of IM 22. However, Governor Daugaard and the legislative leadership wanted an “emergency” measure to be rushed through in one large bill.  Russell said there were conflict of interest concerns with the legislative repeal effort, especially with the lawsuit against IM 22 still in progress.

Frye-Mueller spoke next and said she wanted to see the IM 22 repeal effort work its way through the courts rather than support the legislative remedy. She said she opposed a number of aspects of IM 22, including taxpayer funding of politician’s campaigns. She said that she had voted “yes” on the repeal, but upon further reflection, if she had it to do over, she would vote “no.”

Jensen spoke about SB 55 which is coming up for consideration Monday morning. This bill would allow academic freedom for teachers in the classroom. Jensen said right now, children only get taught one side of topics such as evolution, the Big Bang and global warming, none of the evidence which contradicts these assertions.  No competing ideas are allowed to be presented against the ideas accepted by the establishment.

During subsequent questioning and discussion of SB 55, it was pointed out that there is a lot of misinformation from the media and others about SB 55. The bill says

No teacher may be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information presented in courses being taught which are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to § 13-3-48.

It was noted that there are no competing ideas such as creation or intelligent design in the content standards. The bill would allow teachers to teach strengths and weaknesses about those theories within the content standards. Theories such as evolution and the Big Bang are based on assumptions, and these assumptions are continually challenged by new scientific findings. Teachers aren’t forced to teach the weaknesses if they don’t want to; they are only allowed to if they want to. The legislators seemed to agree with the assertions of the audience member. Russell said that on the Senate floor, the Left tried to give the impression that this would allow content that isn’t in the content standard, but that is clearly not the case according to the language of the bill.

When Campbell made his presentation, he said he had reservations similar to Frye-Mueller’s on IM 22, but the effects of the unconstitutional aspects of IM 22 left just about all legislators open to legal peril and had to be dealt with.  The “independent’ ethics commission, as set up, would essentially be a fourth branch of government, and has too much rule-making authority, as well as power over deciding candidates for the legislature. The taxpayer funding for political campaigns would appropriate approx $5 million from general funds for this purpose; Campbell questioned whether the taxpayers should be forced to pay for the campaigns of politicians.

In follow up discussion, Russell said that while there are other reform measures that have been submitted in the legislature this year, they are “watered down” versions of what should be done to deal with the issues the voters sought to deal with in IM 22. Russell said that if the governor and attorney general thought IM 22 was unconstituitonal, they should have started a lawsuit before it passed. However, Russell said there is a lot of cowardice from our executive branch, and they don’t want to deal with problems like this directly.

A question was asked about how IM 22 would make criminals of most legislators. Campbell and Frye-Mueller said that simple little gifts of no significant value that virtually all legislators receive are illegal under IM 22. Also, Frye-Mueller’s husband works for Regional Health, and since Regional Health has a lobbyist in Pierre, her relationship with her husband puts her at odds with the provisions of IM 22. Russell said the governor’s office and attorney general sent lawyers to talk to legislators (many of whom aren’t lawyers), which makes it difficult for many non-lawyer legislators to know exactly where they stand with regard to the law. Russell also said that the legislative repeal effort would negate the state court case and make it moot. He said the entire matter could end up in federal court for review of how the state dealt with IM 22.

Russell said that while there may not be a lot of corruption and influence convictions on the books, we do have a problem in Pierre, as we’ve seen from GEAR-UP, EB-5 and other scandals, but Pierre isn’t dealing with the problems, so the voters attempted to do so.

Russell stated on a related matter that it seemed more and more bills were getting tagged with the “emergency” clause seen in the IM 22 repeal bill, and that one consequence of the emergency clause is that the measure cannot be referred to the voters at the ballot and thus overturned by the voters.

Another topic of discussion was the proposal to make a state park in Spearfish Canyon, and the $2.5 million cost for which a property tax increase is being considered. According to several legislators and audience members who were in attendance, there were approx. 600 people in attendance at a recent meeting on the issue, and it seemed the vast majority of those attending were opposed to the proposal.

Frye-Mueller mentioned HB 1040 dealing with community living homes, Frye-Mueller felt this amounted to government meddling in people’s affairs and homes. Questions remain whether Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements will apply, as well as Medicaid compliance.

A question was asked about what education bills are being considered. Frye-Mueller, who is on the Education Committee, said she supports SB 55 because we need pro and con information on issues that are not empirical in science. She said that there was some school material under Common Core that was “pornographic.” She said she tried to show some of the material being given to children, and some legislators wouldn’t look at it because they found this “educational material to be morally objectionable. She said the legislature can’t continue turning a blind eye to this.

A question was asked about SB 115, the failed restroom bill, and the need to protect our children from predators in bathrooms because some people want to allow men to be in women’s restrooms. Russell said the Family Heritage Alliance put together a bill and brought it to him. Russell said though the FHA proposed bill wanted bathrooms in it, he recommended the bill only look at the most sensitive areas which are shower rooms because virtually everyone (even Governor Daugaard) should be able to agree on that. Russell said unfortunately the Liberty Counsel, who had agreed to defend them, said the bill was being weakened from a legal standpoint and could no longer agree to defend the bill. Russell said he made a mistake in seeking to keep the restrooms out of the bill. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) also said they had weakened their position legally by trying to put out an olive branch to our “Democratic governor.” Russell and FHA talked about it and decided to withdraw the bill. Russell apologized for weakening and causing the demise of his own bill.

A question was asked about SB 134. Russell said last session, legislators got a lot of communication from teachers coming from official school email addresses about last year’s sales tax increase for education. This bill seeks to deal with the inappropriate use of official school email and other resources to influence political votes.  Russell said he anticipated resistance to this from the governor’s office because the governor’s office probably encouraged a lot of that activity last year.

Those in attendance at this meeting expressed their appreciation for the forum, and being able to ask their questions directly of the legislators present. Even some audience members of the liberal persuasion attended this meeting rather than the Chamber of Commerce one. The next crackerbarrel meeting in Rapid City is schedule for Feb. 25.

Check back at American Clarion later for video of the crackerbarrel meeting today as they become available.

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