Third Legislative Crackerbarrel in Rapid City

Rep. Lynne DiSanto, South Dakota Dist. 35

Rep. Lynne DiSanto, South Dakota Dist. 35

The third legislative crackerbarrel of the 2015 South Dakota legislative session was held in Rapid City today, hosted by the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce.

Featured speakers today were Senator Alan Solano from District 32, Rep. Mike Verchio from District 30, Rep. Lynne DiSanto from District 35, and Rep. Scott Craig from District 33. The featured speakers had five minutes each to discuss some of the issues and bills that were near and dear to their hearts.

DiSanto is in her first term as a representative and is already showing leadership by spearheading a number of legislative initiatives this session. Being new, DiSanto shared a few things about herself. She has lived in Rapid City for three years, is the mother of three children, and is a small business owner.  She said that during her campaign, she knocked on the doors of over 3,000 constituents. During that process, she listened to the concerns of a lot of people facing various challenges in their lives. She said many people were surprised that she wanted to know what they thought, since their perception was that elected officials don’t want to know what the people think. She said she learned that people wanted their government to be flexible and not a bureaucracy. She also found that people valued freedom over conformity and regulations. She said the voters expect integrity from their elected officials, and she takes that seriously. She serves on the Health and Human Services, and Judiciary Committees. She has sponsored several bills–including a pro-gun bill–with several of them having been killed, but her female genital mutilation bill and breastfeeding bill are proceeding through the legislative process.

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After the featured speakers, questions were taken from the audience.

A question was asked about competitive education and teacher pay. Rep. Jacqueline Sly from District 33 responded that it wasn’t just teacher pay, but a task force will start after this session to look at all education funding areas.

A question was asked about climate change, and the person asked for a show of hands among legislators whether they agreed with this statement: “I believe climate change is real, and I think that human factors are contributing to climate change.”  The moderator said he was hearing from the legislators lined up in front that it wasn’t a yes-or-no issue.  Solano said that there is climate change happening, and that probably human activity is contributing, but he didn’t know how much. Jensen said he concurred with Solano, and that yes, we have summer, winter, spring, and fall, and that climate change is occurring. Craig said that he would respond as a Christian and pastor, and that the issue of climate change doesn’t concern him as much as what the Bible says will happen on earth as time goes by. He said the Bible indicates the climate will get much worse, and while he’s concerned about climate change, he’s more concerned about culture change and how that is getting more dark and unstable. Craig said we have to put our hope in the One who made this planet.

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A question was asked of Rep. Verchio about HJR 1005 to change the name of Shannon County to Oglala Lakota County. Verchio said he voted against the bill because of the expense involved in changing everything regarding the name of the county.

A question was asked about autism and cutbacks in funding for therapy. Solano said the legislature has been looking at this issue since last session, and this year the legislature is looking at some coverage under certain health care coverage plans. He said there were a lot of details that have yet to be settled and he could not provide any solid answers yet.

A man referenced a “bridge to nowhere” east of Rapid City that goes to nothing useful, but instead of tearing it down, a lot of money was spent to repair it. Verchio said localities would need to put together a five-year plan regarding needed repairs on bridges and roads. He said that many such bridges were used by farmers and ranchers and need to be upgraded to handle today’s farm equipment.

A question was asked for a show of hands among legislators of who had read the South Dakota Constitution they swore to uphold.  About half the hands went up.

A man asked how many legislators believe evolution is true.  No hands went up, but Craig asked for clarification if this was related to a bill. The man responded that he was concerned about the “ignorance” and “anti-science” attitudes and how they affect public policy.  Craig said he believed in micro-evolution but not macro-evolution.  Solano said he believed God created all things (to which there was widespread applause) and that if God used evolution to do that, then it was part of his plan.

A question was asked of Rep. Brian Gosch about HB 1223 opposing national Common Core education standards, and how quickly that could be voted on.  Gosch said the committee voted down that bill, but an effort was launched to “smoke out” or revive that bill for debate on the House floor. Gosch said the legislative deadline for bills to cross over to the other legislative chamber was Wednesday, and it remained to be seen whether it could happen that fast.

A lady from Wall directed a question to those on the education committee regarding student and family privacy. She said it was frustrating when bills like SB 117 are killed by the legislature, and wanted to know why some legislators have such a problem with parents opting their children out of some of the testing and keeping their information private. DiSanto said she wasn’t on the education committee, but she has been disheartened by such bills being killed. She said such problems are not going away, and efforts to deal with them will not go away. She said she would keep working for positive change on these issues. DiSanto said the parent is the most important component in a child’s education, and often government officials forget that. Sly said some of the same people who had testified for SB 117 had also testified against SB 104, and that we sometimes work against each other. She said that just because a bill deals with a certain topic doesn’t necessarily make it good or bad. Senator Phil Jensen said SB 117 was his bill, and his bill was to allow parents to opt out via an opt out form. Jensen said every single bill–every single bill–that tries to protect parent’s rights and privacy is killed in committee by the Department of Education. He said the mindset is that children don’t belong to you, but to the Department of Education, and the committees are stacked with pro-common core and pro-data gathering members, and the legislature needs to hear from the people.

Tonchi Weaver of South Dakota Citizens for Liberty asked: “At the beginning of session, our legislators were a captive audience for a two-hour presentation by the pro-Common Core Department of Education, the South Dakota Board of Education and others.  When asked to allow time for an opposing point of view, not one minute was given. During testimony on HB1223, time was limited to 20 minutes for proponents of the bill, and equal time was given to the Department and others to oppose it.  In contrast, Arizona and Montana (just this week) advanced their bills to dump Common Core after hours of testimony.  In Montana, 60 parents, teachers, and others testified for seven hours. Now that HB 1223 was successfully smoked out, will you stand to strike the “not” so that the people’s representatives can finally debate the issue on the record?”

Sly said the first few days of the session when her committee met, there were several new members and Sly wanted to spend some time talking about K-12 education. Sly said that a request was made by a legislator to allow anti-Common Core testimony to her committee, and she told her committee that if they wanted more information to let her know, and no committee member did. DiSanto said she would stand to smoke out the bill.  She said she believed she was treated fairly in the hearings on her bills Friday. However, she said she is first and foremost a mother, and a mother with a fourth grader who can’t figure out Common Core math. She said that after meeting with the teacher and trying to help her child understand math, that using the “old” method of math, her child said he “finally understood math.” DiSanto said many states are turning against Common Core, and she believes the tide is turning against this. Being a new person in the legislature, she said she is learning about the “blue badge” lobbyists who work for the government and get paid (at taxpayer expense) to lobby legislators for bills that benefit their government jobs. The average citizen can’t do that, DiSanto said, and it is a concern for her that this is the way things work. Rep. Chip Campbell said what we have heard to day is why YOU need to be involved in your government. Campbell said he would stand to smoke out the bill.

A question was asked about extending Medicaid benefits to more people in South Dakota, and in light of federal government reimbursement for at least a few years for that, what plans there are to take advantage of that. Senator Craig Tieszen said nothing is happening on the surface but below the surface there are discussions involving providers and the federal government. He said it is something worth looking at. Rep. Dan Dryden said conversations are going on but that is all he is aware of. Jensen said the state has no extra money, pure and simple, and we know that the federal government is broke and printing money it doesn’t have. He said we all care about the poor, and this is an opportunity for faith-based organizations to step up to the plate and do what we used to do decades ago before we abdicated our responsibility to the government.

Regarding the lowering of the minimum wage for minors (SB 177), a question was asked why the legislature wanted to reduce pay for young people. Solano said this bill is about ensuring opportunities for our children. In areas with higher minimum wages that include minors, they also have higher minor unemployment figures. With the new minimum wage, youth may not be able to find employment, Solano said. Tieszen said he voted for the bill because he believes this will be helpful in youth employment.

A question was asked about uranium mining in the area and safety concerns over the project. Verchio said uranium isn’t dangerous, but rather radium is dangerous. He said that he had picked up a handful of yellow cake, and it is completely safe to handle. Second, he said, the EPA and our own department of natural resources are involved in this, and none of them are particular easy on mining operations. Verchio said his position is that he will wait for the science to indicate whether we should go forward with that. Senator Bruce Rampelberg said local authorities are involved in this process and they are waiting to hear reports from the EPA before they make a decision.

A question was posed for the appropriations committee, whether they were aware of a March 2012 report that our state is one of the most corrupt (the report actually cited a risk of corruption, and lack of accountability), and what is being done about that. Dryden said he didn’t see a correlation with the appropriations committee and didn’t agree with the report. Craig said South Dakota is one of the best states to do business in, and this is the first time he has heard this.

Regarding the Medicaid expansion, an audience member said the concern about the reliability of federal money were not appropriate since the state receives all manner of other federal money. Solano said there is a “matching share” formula between the state and the federal government, and that share for the state has gone up considerably over time. Rampelberg said Medicaid spending has increased over 200% in the last 20 years, and pointed out that every government expenditure means more out of YOUR taxes. He said we need to be careful what we ask for, because we might get it. Tieszen said the fear that the federal government wouldn’t keep its word and pay for what it says it will pay for isn’t an excuse, but a reality. Rep. Jeff Partridge said our state budget was over $4 billion, and a significant portion of that relies on federal money. He said that we as a state are fiscally conservative and that is working against us, and we can only expect relying on federal money to make things worse as time goes by.

The final Rapid City legislative crackerbarrel is scheduled for Saturday March 7.


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Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran, a political reporter and commentator for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for over 20 years. He was a founding member and board member of the Tea Party groups Citizens for Liberty and the South Dakota Tea Party Alliance. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
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