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Podcast: Estate-tax fixation almost kept Noem off conference committee

Kristi Noem’s fixation on the estate tax almost kept her off the tax-reform conference committee, she says in a new episode of the Rapid City Journal’s Mount Podmore political podcast.

“I went to the Speaker and said, ‘Would you please put me on the conference committee to negotiate?’ He said, ‘No. Absolutely not. I will not put you on there.’” Noem said. “I said, ‘Why is that?’ And he said, ‘Because you care too much about the death tax.’ He said, ‘I’m worried that you won’t contribute to all the discussion, that you’ll only focus on the death tax and then if we don’t repeal the death tax, you won’t vote for the bill.”

Mount Podmore 8: Kristi Noem

The podcast episode is available now on the Journal website, iTunes and other podcast apps. Other topics covered in the episode include Noem's description of what most surprised her when she joined Congress, her preference for more of what she called "normal people" in elected office, her opinion of President Donald Trump, and her views on campaign finance.

Noem, a Republican, is South Dakota’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Rather than seek re-election this year, she is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

Noem was ultimately appointed to the tax-reform conference committee. She said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was convinced by her and others who intervened on her behalf that she would bring a valuable perspective to the committee as someone who has operated a small business, managed a farm and ranch operation, and raised a family.

The conference committee ironed out the differences in the House and Senate versions of the tax-reform bill, which passed both chambers of Congress and was signed by President Trump late last year. Some Republicans, including Noem, say the new law's lower tax rates will spark economic activity that will grow tax revenues, while many Democrats say the new law will exacerbate annual budget deficits and the national debt.

Noem’s opposition to the estate tax, which she calls the “death tax,” stems from her father’s 1994 death in a farm accident. Afterward, the family faced a $169,858 estate-tax liability.

Tax experts have said Noem’s parents could have avoided the liability with proper estate planning, a fact that was widely reported in the news while Noem pushed to include a repeal of the estate tax in the tax-reform bill.

“I found that very offensive. Extremely offensive,” Noem said of the media reports. “That’s the perfect argument for why this tax needs to be repealed. If only the wealthy, rich, really smart people can get out of paying it because they can hire enough attorneys to do the planning to avoid it, then it’s hitting everyone else and it proves how unfair it is.”

The estate tax was not repealed by the tax-reform bill, but exemptions were temporarily doubled to $11 million for individuals and $22 million for couples. Those higher exemptions will expire and revert to lower levels after 2025 unless Congress extends them.

Noem said she continues to hope for a repeal of the estate tax.

Spearfish Brewing Company open and crafting lagers, ambers and ales

SPEARFISH | Spearfish Brewing Company general manager Jon Marek said Spearfish’s newest craft beer brewery was off to a good start, even before it was even officially open last week. 

Marek and brewmaster Nathan Venner have already hosted a charity event at the brewery, located in a fresh new building at the corner of Main Street and Jackson Boulevard, and then decided — spur of the moment — to open their doors last Monday to allow anyone wandering in to try out their selection of craft beer.

“We didn’t really tell anybody, we just put a tiny sign on the door, and we had 30-40 people in here,” Marek said.

“It’s getting off to a great start,” he said. “The community has been very supportive.”

The company officially drew its first glasses of craft lagers, ambers and ales on Friday at their location. 

State officials touted the new brewery as another piece of a burgeoning industry in South Dakota.

“The craft beer industry has seen substantial growth in South Dakota, especially in recent years,” said Scott Stern, commissioner with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Taprooms like the one Spearfish Brewing is opening are a lucrative business where tourists and locals alike can enjoy craft beer in a unique environment.”

At the heart of the gleaming new brewery, said Venner in a news release, is a stainless steel 341-gallon, two-vessel brewhouse built by American Beer Equipment from Lincoln, Neb., boasting a brewing capacity of 3,600 barrels per year.

Venner is originally from Pierre, with 11 years experience as a commercial brewmaster — 13 years total in the brewing industry.

He brings his knowledge from working in breweries in Laramie and Lander, Wyo.

According to a release, he plans about a dozen classic American and international styles of lagers, clear ambers and India Pale Ales (IPAs), and also wants to recreate some of his favorite and most acclaimed beers from his years of brewing, including a classic American wheat beer that has earned him two silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival, along with an award-winning rye beer, and a seasonal chili beer which “won medals at the North American Beer Awards for seven consecutive years,” he said.

The process begins with a state-of-the-art water filtration system that allows a brewmaster to highlight the flavors in each style of beer.

Marek said the brewery is taking further advantage of the filtration system to produce in-house sparkling waters, giving patrons a unique non-alcoholic alternative.

Some of their first sparkling water creations include cucumber-lime and orange peel and pear flavors.

“We wanted to put in a system that could make really great light lagers,” Marek said. “Once we got that water filtration system in, we decided to double-down and actually produce some craft sparkling waters. They’ve actually been a huge hit,” Marek said.

The brewery also offers an upscale small-plate menu from chef Kyle Smith from RedWater Kitchen, a separately-owned eatery in the same building.

"He’s got expansive beer knowledge and he’s a really great chef,” Marek said of Smith.

Marek said a rotating food menu at the brewery will also include seafood dishes from Dakota Seafood Co. of Rapid City, which also plans a new retail space under the same roof.

According to the Spearfish Economic Development Corporation, Spearfish Brewing received support from state and local economic development organizations.

“Spearfish Brewing Company will be an excellent addition to our ever-growing business community,” said Kory Menken, Spearfish Economic Development Corporation executive director, in a news release. “SEDC is pleased we were able to help play a part in bringing this exciting project to fruition.”

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Senate committee endorses bill attacking Planned Parenthood

Al Novstrup

Legislation that specifically names Planned Parenthood and claims the abortion provider hasn’t adequately complied with South Dakota’s counseling law advanced Friday.

The Senate State Affairs Committee recommended passage of SB 110. The full Senate could take it up as early as Tuesday afternoon.

The committee vote was 6-2. Prime sponsor is Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen. Besides making repeated accusations against Planned Parenthood, the bill seeks to expand legal authority for pregnancy help centers.

The centers would be required to provide a statement orally and in writing to the pregnant mother. The statement would say an abortion would terminate the life of “a whole, separate, unique, living human being” and the centers would be required make certain the mothers understand the statement.

The bill also would require centers to discuss “the physical or psychological risks to a woman posed by an abortion.”

Planned Parenthood at its Sioux Falls facility provides 98 percent of the abortions in South Dakota, according to the legislation. The term "Planned Parenthood" was used at least nine times in the original bill that Novstrup filed.

At one point the legislation said Planned Parenthood personnel “have proven to be unreliable providers and counselors of the disclosures required” by South Dakota law.

The Legislature in 2013 required mandatory counseling 72 hours before an abortion. A federal court injunction has prevented the law from fully taking effect.

A federal trial could be scheduled this year.

The injunction likely would continue for years, until the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a decision in the case, according to Jon Hansen, a lawyer and former state legislator.

“I’m confident the portion of 1217 that is enjoined today will be lifted,” Hansen told the senators, referring to the 2013 bill’s number.

Novstrup said South Dakota’s counseling requirement reduced abortions approximately 15 percent. He said 60 lives were saved on average per year.

“What we do does matter,” he said.

Novstrup during the question period called Harold Cassidy, a New Jersey lawyer, to the witness dais.

Cassidy, who hadn’t testified, said the bill’s references to Planned Parenthood would provide official legislative findings that could be used in federal court.

Senate Republican leader Blake Curd of Sioux Falls and Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, voted against the bill.

Curd listed many objections to the format and language. He said he couldn’t find any other state law that listed the specific name of a company.

Heinert said the legislation wasn’t necessary. “The avenue already is there,” he said.

Passing the bill into state law would change the rules as the case goes to trial, according to Heinert.

Regarding the use of the term "Planned Parenthood," he said: “I’ve never seen it, eight years here.”

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Hail damage to roof at Stevens could mean boost in insurance costs

An estimated $1.5 million in hail damage to the roof at Rapid City Stevens High School could mean another big dent in the Rapid City Area School’s budget, this time in the form of significantly higher property insurance premiums.

“It could mean a big hit for us,” said school district spokeswoman Katy Urban.

Leaks developed last fall in the roof over the fine arts wing and other areas of roof at Stevens.

An inspection revealed probable damage from the late summer storm, which pummeled Black Hawk and much of Rapid City.

“We had just redone that roof last summer,” said district business official Dave Janak. “So we needed to determine if it was hail damage, or an installation problem.”

Janak said membrane roofs sometimes don’t show damage until they go through a few winter freeze-thaw cycles. Attempts to repair the cracks in the roof material failed to completely stop the leaks, he said.

Finally, an insurance adjuster inspected the roof just before winter break and determined the damage to be significant.

No leaks have been reported in any of the district’s 31 buildings, but Janak said additional snow and cold weather could reveal more damage.

“We’ll eventually walk all those roofs before summer,” Janak said

If more damage is found, Janak estimates the additional repair cost could potentially mean a $500,000 boost in insurance premium costs. The district's $1 million cost for property and liability and fidelity fund insurance, includes a $25,000 deductible, he said.

Janak recalls a 2013 hailstorm that caused $4 million in damage to the district. Because of the higher risk of such storms in this region, premiums jumped about $1 million the following year, he said.

Janak said any additional premium increase would have to come from the district’s general fund, taking money that could have been used for additional curriculum, technology, buses, building maintenance or improvements.

“There’s just certain costs you have no control over — insurance, gas prices — it’s just one of those things we all face,” Janak said.

“You just figure out a way to pay it,” he said.