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House blocks independents from voting in all primaries

PIERRE | Rep. Drew Dennert felt the wrath of the South Dakota Republican Party’s leadership Monday.

The House of Representatives rejected his proposal to change how South Dakota primary elections run. The measure failed on a vote of 29 yes and 37 no. A majority of 36 was needed in the 70-seat chamber.

Dennert, R-Aberdeen, wanted to allow a voter registered independent or no-party to participate in a party primary. His system would have let the voter designate the primary or stay neutral. Democrats and Libertarians let independent and no-party voters cast ballots in their primary elections. Republican and Constitution primaries are for members-only.

During the debate, Dennert said people of his generation are “passionate” about it. 

“This is something that has been on my mind for quite a while,” said Dennert, who is 22.

South Dakota’s 35 legislative districts average about 3,400 independents and no-party voters apiece, he said.

Calling his proposal “a good policy that voters want to see,” he said: “This is a fairness issue. Independent voters in the state should be allowed to participate.”

Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, asked if independents could sign a party’s nomination petitions. “This bill would not change that at all,” Dennert said.

Rounds asked how often an independent or no-party voter could “flip” on choosing a primary. Dennert said the voter could change numerous times before an election. “This does not change that process at all,” Dennert replied.

Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls, asked how many other organizations allow voting by people who otherwise have nothing to do with the group. “To me it diminishes the significance of a party primary,” Haugaard said. "I think it chips away at the established patterns we have right now.”

Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, said the recent decision by Republican members of Congress to increase the federal deficit is one reason why voters are changing to independents.

Most independents in South Dakota are disaffected Republicans, Lust maintained. “This recognizes the independence of those independents,” he said. “And it’s about accountability, too.”

Rep. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, said Dennert’s idea was “a good marketing effort.”

“You gotta recognize the times are changing,” Reed said.

Rep. Chris Karr, R-Sioux Falls, spoke against it. “You’re going to dilute the Republican Party and what it stands for,” he said.

“We can’t just sit on the fence,” Rep. Lana Greenfield, R-Doland, said. “The decision-making process is important.”

Dennert used his rebuttal time to make a point: “In this case we’re dealing with taxpayers in taxpayer-funded elections.”

He agreed with Greenfield that young voters don’t always know where they stand politically when they turn age 18.

“I want young people participating in the elections process,” Dennert said.

Senate panel agrees to more buffer-strip tax breaks

PIERRE | More agricultural properties could be eligible for buffer-strip tax breaks, and more farmers could be eligible for seats on the important South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Commission, under changes a panel of the Legislature recommended Tuesday.

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted 9-0 for each proposal and placed them on the Senate consent schedule for action this afternoon.

Lawmakers can only ask questions about measures on the consent calendar. If a debate is sought, any member of the chamber can make the request. Then the bill is moved to the debate schedule for the following day.

Neither measure had opposition Tuesday. Senate agreement would be final legislative approval and the bills would head to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for final review.

Rep. Herman Otten, R-Lennox, is prime sponsor for the buffer-strip legislation. Lead Senate sponsor for the bill, HB 1119, is Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot.

It would allow a board of county commissioners, by resolution, to tell the director of equalization to reduce property taxes for any agricultural land within 120 feet of a tributary to any lake, river or stream already designated in the state buffer-strip plan.

The goal is to reduce the amount of factory chemicals and natural nutrients that run off and pollute the water. The riparian buffer strip shall be assessed at 60 percent of its agricultural income value.

“It’s a neat program,” Frerichs said.

Daugaard started the riparian buffer program last year after he received the Legislature’s approval. Daugaard used his veto in 2016 to stop a bill Sen. Jim Peterson, D-Revillo, passed.

Angela Ehlers, who oversees the South Dakota Conservation Districts organization, showed maps reflecting waters that are in or out of the state program. Since the county process requires a resolution, the decision may be referred to a public vote, she said.

Jay Gilbertson, manager of East Dakota water development district, said opening the state list seemed to be “a really bad idea” and said the proposal would be an effective alternate. “If the interest is there, they (commissioners) can do that,” he said.

The program received 42 applications last year, according to Gilbertson, and 27 were accepted, measuring about 300 acres. “Not a great start, but for a new program, understandable,” he said.

Other supporters included the state Department of Agriculture, the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems and the Izaak Walton League of America.

“This is the next logical step in where we need to be,” said Sen. Ernie Otten, R-Tea.

Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, said he liked the bill because county commissions could decide what’s right in their areas.

“I believe it’s good legislation,” Cammack said.

On qualifications for the GF&P Commission, state law says four of the eight members must be farmers or ranchers who reside on their operations and receive at least two-thirds of their income from crops or livestock.

Rep. Kent Peterson, R-Salem, wants to expand the definition so farmers who live off-farm could qualify too. He described HB 1148 as “a common sense update.”

Peterson’s goal is to increase the pool of eligible farmers. “I think it’s a reasonable approach,” he said.

Grace Beck, who manages the governor’s appointments to state boards and commissions, told senators it was “good policy.”

“This is a good piece of legislation,” she said.

Lobbyists for South Dakota Farmers Union and South Dakota Farm Bureau spoke in favor. The bill seemed “worthwhile” to Frerichs. “It just makes good policy,” he said.

Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, said there was a prediction years ago, as part of another study, that rural South Dakota would have more farmers and ranchers living away from the properties where they work.

“We’re seeing this play out,” Soholt said.

TigerSwan wants scope of North Dakota civil trial reduced

BISMARCK, N.D. | A private security firm hired by the developer of the Dakota Access oil pipeline wants a judge to restrict evidence during an upcoming civil trial over whether it operated illegally in North Dakota.

An attorney for North Carolina-based TigerSwan also wants Judge John Grinsteiner to dismiss company President James Reese as a defendant in the case.

North Dakota's Private Investigative and Security Board sued TigerSwan and Reese last June, saying the company operated without a license during protests against the pipeline. It wants a judge to ban TigerSwan from the state. The board also could seek thousands of dollars in fines and fees.

TigerSwan maintains it provided consulting services that don't require a North Dakota license — not investigative or security services regulated by the board — and relied on information from other companies hired by Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. Attorney Lynn Boughey in a flurry of recent court filings asked the judge to dismiss the board's allegations, saying any investigative work done by TigerSwan officials occurred at the company's headquarters in North Carolina.

"They were kind of the conduit, bringing all of the information together into something usable," Boughey said in an interview Tuesday. "They didn't need to be licensed."

Board attorney Monte Rogneby said there is no dispute that TigerSwan employees worked in North Dakota.

"Their claim is that none of those employees were engaged in activities that would require a license," he said. "The board disagrees with their assessment."

Pipeline opponents have denounced TigerSwan for allegedly using military-style counter-terrorism measures, having a close working relationship with public law enforcement and using propaganda. TigerSwan maintains it's the victim of a smear campaign.

A five-day trial on the civil suit is scheduled to begin Oct. 8. Boughey has asked Grinsteiner to bar any evidence about TigerSwan activities conducted outside of North Dakota. Rogneby said he thinks that request is premature.

Boughey also wants Reese dismissed as a defendant, saying the state hasn't provided any facts that the company president personally handled any investigative or security services.

Rogneby said the board maintains Reese "caused his company to provide services in North Dakota without being licensed."

Boughey said he plans to make a settlement offer to the state this week, though he declined to provide details. Rogneby said previous settlement discussions failed.

The $3.8 billion pipeline began moving North Dakota oil through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois last June. While it was being built, six months of protests in North Dakota by opponents who feared environmental harm resulted in 761 arrests.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sues opioid industry

BISMARCK, N.D. | The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit Monday against major manufacturers and distributors of opioids, joining other tribes that have filed similar lawsuits.

The case in U.S. District Court in North Dakota against 24 opioid industry defendants seeks monetary damages, alleging the companies have seen “blockbuster profits” while the use of opioids has taken an enormous toll on the tribe.

It’s the second lawsuit filed by former North Dakota U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon and former South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, who now work for national firm Robins Kaplan.

“The opioid epidemic has hit Indian County hard, and the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation is no exception,” Purdon said in a statement.

The complaint notes that Native Americans suffer the highest per capita rate of opioid overdoses. It alleges the defendants used false and misleading advertising and failed to prevent drug diversion, creating a “virtually limitless opioid market.”

While Purdon was U.S. Attorney, he announced a 14-month federal drug trafficking investigation on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2012 that yielded multiple arrests, including several defendants accused of distributing prescription opioids.

Robins Kaplan attorneys filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota in January. That case is among several lawsuits filed by communities around the country that are consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

Like the South Dakota case, the lawsuit from Standing Rock seeks unspecified damages for allegations of deceptive trade practices, fraudulent and negligent conduct and alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. It seeks injunctive relief that would prevent defendants from continuing unlawful conduct.

Purdon said in an interview he thinks additional tribes from the Great Plains will file similar lawsuits.

John Parker, senior vice president of the trade association Healthcare Distribution Alliance, said in a statement that the abuse of prescription opioids is a complex challenge that requires “a collaborative and systemic response.”

“Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated,” Parker said. “Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

Senate says 'yes' to longer non-meandered water laws


PIERRE | Laws the South Dakota Legislature passed last year regulating public recreational uses of non-meandered waters that lay over privately owned lands should continue until July 1, 2021, the state Senate decided Tuesday.

Senators voted 26-9 for the extension. The measure, SB 24, now goes to the House of Representatives. Without an extension, the laws expire this year on June 30.

One of the yeses came from Sen. Jeff Partridge, R-Rapid City. When the Legislature met June 12 for the special session, Partridge insisted on the June 30 expiration.

The Senate stood with him that day. The House and Gov. Dennis Daugaard had wanted June 30, 2021. The Senate got back on the House-Daugaard track Tuesday.

Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, said he received 25 to 100 emails daily on the topic of non-meandered waters before the special session. Since then he’s received zero.

“This has been like a breath of fresh air for both sides,” Cammack said.

Sen. Bob Ewing, R-Spearfish, agreed. “The legislation we put in place last summer needs time to work,” he said.

Ewing praised Secretary Kelly Hepler for re-positioning the state Game, Fish & Parks Department, moving toward a more neutral spot in the center.

“We need to give this bill we passed last summer an opportunity,” Ewing said.

The Legislature declared the waters belong to the public, but said nearly any private landowner could ask the state GF&P Commission to close all or part of the person’s water to recreational use. The Legislature also declared a list of more than two dozen waters to automatically be open because of their historical use.

Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, said she’s wasn’t sure the perspective was as rosy as the previous speakers portrayed. But, Soholt said, it was important to have a repeal date so the Legislature and the public could be assured there would be “a revisiting.”

Sen. Alan Solano, R-Rapid City, said the special session tried to address “a 25-, 50-year issue.” Solano encouraged a repeal date but ultimately voted no during the roll call.

Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, openly opposed the current bill Tuesday, just as he had during the special session.

“We’re talking about private property rights here,” he said.

The GF&P had set “an abusive policy” for decades that favored sportsmen’s use of the waters, Nelson said.

“What we’ve done is we’ve compromised people’s private property rights,” Nelson said. “These farmers and ranchers have every right to have say-so over their property.”


David Lust