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Wild day for sports betting amendment as it gets new life

PIERRE — A measure proposing that South Dakota voters should decide on legalizing sports betting in Deadwood got new life Monday after earlier failing during a committee hearing.

The House State Affairs Committee voted 7-3 against the proposal, but representatives later used a procedural move to order its delivery to the floor. The measure has already passed through the Senate.

Deadwood Gaming Association Executive Director Mike Rodman said backers will exhaust their legislative options before gathering signatures to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. The group's goal is to get the measure in "front of the voters of South Dakota and let them decide."

If supporters don't find luck at the Capitol, then they would have to collect nearly 34,000 signatures to put the measure to a statewide vote. In South Dakota, the Legislature can place a constitutional change before voters or amendment supporters can gather names. Petitions are due in November.

"We believe that people have a right to have their say in sports betting, and we want to give them that opportunity," Rodman said.

Deadwood is known as the city where Wild Bill Hickok was gunned down in 1876 while playing poker in a saloon, and after gambling was legalized there in 1989, Deadwood became a major force in South Dakota's tourism industry.

Sports wagering would provide another amenity for visitors, providing a boost for hotels, shops and restaurants, Rodman told the committee.

Lynzie Montague, who oversees two properties in Deadwood for Liv Hospitality, said sports wagering could help with employee retention, generate revenue and attract extra tax dollars. She said sports betting could be key to the survival of the town.

"In our peak season, it's like Christmas every day. Casinos and business are making money, we hire additional associates and we enthusiastically embrace our guests and foster new relationships," Montague said. "This quickly comes to an end once October hits and the offseason is on the horizon."

Representing Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's administration, Revenue Department Deputy Secretary David Wiest opposed the measure, saying it's more gambling and that regulation costs would exceed revenues generated.

"Gov. Noem has made it clear that she does not wish to have gambling expanded in South Dakota," Wiest said.

The push this session comes after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way last year for all states to offer legal sports betting. The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the Legislature to authorize wagering in Deadwood and at tribal casinos.

In 2014, 57 percent of voters approved an amendment that paved the way for allowing keno, craps and roulette in Deadwood.

Noem introduces bill package to curb Keystone XL protests

Gov. Kristi Noem announced Monday a surprise bill package to curb protests of TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

According to a news release, one of two bills would create a legal avenue and funding source to pursue out-of-state sources that Noem said can fund protests that aim to shut down pipeline construction.

"We should celebrate differences of opinion, but here in South Dakota, we will have the rule of law, because rioters do not control economic development in our state," Noem said in her release. "This package creates a legal avenue, if necessary, to go after out-of-state money funding riots that go beyond expressing a viewpoint but instead aim to slow down the pipeline build.

"It allows us to follow the money for riots and cut it off at the source,” she added.

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota said the legislation infringes on free speech rights.

"The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy and at the core of the First Amendment," Libby Skarin, the group's policy director, said in a statement.

The second bill would establish what Noem titled the Pipeline Engagement Activity Coordination Expenses (PEACE) Fund to fund law enforcement efforts on pipeline protests.

With the PEACE Fund, Noem said law enforcement costs would be dispersed between county, state and federal governments, as well as pipeline companies and protesters.

“This first-of-its-kind plan is a transparent way to spread costs and risk without raising taxes," Noem said.

Noem said her two-part package is the result of discussions between her administration and TransCanada, lawmakers, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders.

The Keystone XL pipeline would run from Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines.

Keystone XL would enter South Dakota at a spot 32 miles northwest of Buffalo and run in a southeasterly direction through the counties of Harding, Butte, Perkins, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman, Meade and Tripp. The pipeline would exit South Dakota about 20 miles southeast of Colome.

Monday's news release did not mention any discussions between the administration and South Dakota's tribes. 

Noem said the package will "help ensure the Keystone XL pipeline and other future pipeline projects are built in a safe and efficient manner while protecting our state and counties from extraordinary law enforcement costs in the event of riots."

Officials have already changed state law in anticipation of Keystone XL protests. In 2017, they made it a Class 1 misdemeanor for someone to stand in the highway to stop traffic or to trespass in a posted emergency area. That was a scaled-back version of a bill championed by then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard amid concerns about large demonstrations similar to the Dakota Access protests.

The developer of the Dakota Access pipeline last month sued the environmental group Greenpeace in North Dakota. Energy Transfer Partners accused the group and activists of conspiring to use illegal and violent means to disrupt construction and benefited from the ensuing publicity to increase donations.

Greenpeace has said the company is trying to silence peaceful advocacy. A judge tossed the ETP claim out of federal court, but the company is pursuing similar claims in state court.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said in an email that the company appreciates Noem's efforts to help advance the construction of Keystone XL and other pipelines in a way that ensures the safety of workers and state residents.

"Any legislation that deters unlawful activities and encourages the advancement of critical infrastructure projects is a positive step in the right direction," Cunha said.

Stevens senior headed to fourth National Science Bowl

For the past four weeks, Alan Zhu has zig-zagged across the state to take part in academic competitions of all stripes.

The Rapid City Stevens High School senior traveled to Huron one weekend for the South Dakota Regional High School Science Bowl and to Sioux Falls the next for a National Speech and Debate Tournament regional qualifier.

Competing alongside and against friends is good fun, Zhu, 16, said, but spending time away from home and out of the classroom to do so can be difficult.

"At one point in the quarter, I had a failing grade in AP Biology," he said. "But I managed to get that back to an A. You’ve got to just keep doing the work.”

It's work that appears to have paid off. Zhu's performance in last month's competitions qualified him for his fourth National Science Bowl and first National Speech and Debate Tournament. This will be the high school's fifth consecutive year competing in the science games, which take place in April in Washington, D.C., and are organized by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Zhu first tried his hand at knowledge games in the fourth grade at the encouragement of his parents, both of whom are educators. His father, Zhengtao Zhu, is an associate professor of chemistry and applied biological sciences at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, and his mother, Yan Zhang, teaches at Rushmore Chinese School in Rapid City.

In the eighth grade, he began debating, an activity that he said did not come to him as easily.

"Science for me comes more naturally," Zhu said.

To place for the national debate tournament, then, was something Zhu said he felt vindicated by. He is the only student from his school to date to qualify for this year's event.

He will be competing in the area of international extemporaneous speaking, which consists of debates over foreign policy and politics. Students have 30 minutes each round to prepare seven-minute speeches on assigned topics.

For the science competition, Zhu and four other Stevens students are preparing by studying a different area of scientific studies. It's his goal to place higher than the school did in previous years.

“I think we have a pretty strong team this year, so I think we have a pretty good shot," he said. "Obviously, it depends on what group you get drawn into ... if you have a bunch of really high-level teams in your group then you’re out of luck.”

Zhu said he plans on attending college after he graduates and is waiting to see which ones accept his application. He intends to study computer science.

Zhu said it's difficult to pin down what or who inspires him to compete but professed an admiration for his teammates and his parents for their mutual support. 

"My parents allowed me the freedom to study what I wanted to, and it's been helpful to have their support," he said.

Lawsuit targets ban on out-of-state political contributions

A political blogger and activist from Aberdeen has sued to overturn South Dakota’s ban on out-of-state contributions to ballot-question committees.

The lawsuit describes the ban as “a blatantly unconstitutional law that criminalizes lawful political speech and trashes the United States Constitution.”

Cory Heidelberger and his ballot-question committee, SD Voice, are the plaintiffs. The attorney for the plaintiffs is Jim Leach, of Rapid City.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in the Aberdeen-based Northern Division of U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota.

The law banning out-of-state contributions to South Dakota statewide ballot-question committees, known as Initiated Measure 24, was approved by the state’s voters in the Nov. 6 general election, 56 to 44 percent. According to the lawsuit, IM 24 made South Dakota the first state to ban such contributions.

The law bans contributions to statewide ballot committees from out-of-state residents, out-of-state political committees, and entities not filed with the secretary of state for four years preceding such contributions. Violations of the law are punishable by a civil penalty of 200 percent of the prohibited contributions.

Former South Dakota Speaker of the House Mark Mickelson put the issue to a public vote by organizing a petition drive that collected enough signatures to place the matter on statewide ballots.

The issue of out-of-state money in ballot-question campaigns became especially controversial in 2016. That year, according to a Journal analysis, a total of $11.1 million was raised by 22 committees supporting or opposing 10 statewide ballot questions. Of that amount, roughly $9.5 million — 86 percent, or nearly $9 of every $10 — came from out-of-state people and groups.

In a 2017 interview with the Journal, Mickelson predicted that his initiative would be challenged in court.

“I think we win,” he said then. “I wouldn’t be spending my time if I didn’t think it would be upheld, I assure you.”

Heidelberger’s lawsuit argues that IM 24 violates the political freedom and freedom of speech allowed by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Heidelberger wrote about the lawsuit Friday on his website, Dakota Free Press.

“Money is speech, and freedom of speech applies to everyone from every state and in every state,” he wrote.

The lawsuit additionally alleges that the law violates the economic freedom allowed by the constitutional doctrine known as the Dormant Commerce Clause and violates the Equal Protection Clause in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

The lawsuit seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions against the enforcement of IM 24. Without such injunctions, the law would take effect on July 1.

Heidelberger’s lawsuit argues that if IM 24 is allowed to take effect as scheduled, it will unconstitutionally prohibit him and SD Voice from providing support to an initiative for which Heidelberger is circulating petitions for inclusion on the 2020 general election ballot.

The lawsuit says SD Voice has already received out-of-state money for that petition drive, but the source and amount of the money is not disclosed. The petition drive is for an initiative that would eliminate several restrictions on petition circulators and would change other aspects of initiative and referendum requirements.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are three state officials who were elected in November: Gov. Kristi Noem, South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg and South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett. None has filed a response to the lawsuit so far.