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House committee passes bill to make texting while driving a primary offense

PIERRE | After emotional testimony, the House Transportation Committee approved a bill that makes texting while driving a primary offense.

HB1169 would make using an electronic device while driving a primary rather than secondary offense. Currently drivers can’t be stopped for texting while driving but can be ticketed if they are found to be in violation of another law.

Exceptions in the bill allow the use of electronic devices by law enforcement and other emergency services, texting 911 in an emergency and entering a phone number to make a call.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Doug Barthel, R-Sioux Falls, said he offered a similar bill last year that came up one vote short of passage in the Senate.

By moving the violation to a primary offense, Barthel said, it was likely that more people would obey the law. The fine would go up to $122.50. “It’s not going to be a big revenue generator,” Barthel said.

The legislation is more about changing behavior, according to Doug Abraham, who represents insurance companies.

“When you know you’re going to be pulled over, you change your behavior,” Abraham said.

Lobbyists from a wide array of interests supported the bill. They included hospitals and the medical profession, building contractors, firefighters and EMTs, sheriffs and police chiefs.

The committee also heard from Jeff and Lesa Dahl of Castlewood whose 19-year-old son, Jacob, died in a car accident while he was using his phone. The Northern State University student was taking a photo when his car ran into the rear of a truck hauling soybeans.

Jeff Dahl pulled from a Highway Patrol evidence bag the phone his son was using when he died. Forensic evidence showed that his son was on the phone constantly from when he left Northern until the accident near Andover.

“I cry every single day since then,” Dahl said.

The committee approved the bill on a vote of 10-1. It now goes to the full House.

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Revenue projections rise by $19 million as state lawmakers prepare budget

PIERRE | South Dakota lawmakers projected Thursday that they will have more money to work with than previously expected as they craft the state budget.

When Gov. Kristi Noem proposed the budget in December, she predicted revenues would be tight as the state recovered from a year of flooding and trade uncertainty. The Legislature's Joint Committee on Appropriations on Thursday approved projections that were more optimistic as revenue rebounded in the last two months. Lawmakers decided they will have roughly $1.74 billion in revenue for the 2021 budget that starts in July, an increase of $19 million from what the Republican governor predicted.

In her State of the State address, Noem asked lawmakers to find “extra flexibility” in the budget to fund inflationary pay increases for teachers, state employees and service providers for the first time in three years. The Bureau of Finance and Management estimates that each percentage-point increase in funding will cost about $16 million.

“The discussion and the math starts today," said Sen. John Wiik, a Republican from Big Stone City.

With the revenue projections in hand, lawmakers can now go to work hammering out the budget. Legislative leaders said that will be a priority for the rest of the session.

Hanging over the financial projections was the prospect of spring flooding, which could impact agriculture. Last year, South Dakota led the nation in unplanted farm acres due to bad weather. With high water levels and a forecast for a wet spring, many lawmakers felt the state should brace for another tough year for farmers.

The state will also lose about $20 million in tax revenue starting in July when it can no longer tax internet services. Legislators also estimated that they will lose about $2 million in taxes because the age for tobacco purchases was raised to 21.

Noem predicted in December that the state budget would total roughly $4.94 billion once federal dollars and other state funds are added.

The governor has proposed three projects that would each cost about $5 million: funding initiatives for broadband internet across the state, a new School of Health Sciences at University of South Dakota, and upgrading the state’s emergency response dispatch system. Noem also asked for $3.7 million to address increasing rates of meth addiction.

She also wants lawmakers to shell out about $3.5 million to get their proposed industrial hemp program up and running.

Democrats, who hold just three seats on the Joint Committee on Appropriations that approved the revenue projections, said the figures were pessimistic.

Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Sioux Falls Democrat, called the revenue projections process “contentious and divisive. He wished that lawmakers would have been more optimistic in order to find wiggle room when they have hard budget decisions to make.

Wiik said the projections were just the opposite.

“We're going to have to have a really good year to hit those figures," he said.

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Three Oklahomans go to prison after creating, using fake $100 bills

Three Oklahomans are going to prison after creating and using thousands of dollars of counterfeit $100 bills in South Dakota and other states.

Mary Autry, 42, was sentenced last week at the federal court in Rapid City to 2.5 years in prison, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Dakota. Marcus Franklin, 46, and Michael Ogden, 38, were previously sentenced to 3.4 years in prison.

They all pleaded guilty to passing counterfeit U.S. currency, which carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison.

Restitution in the case has been deferred, but plea deals say they owe at least $120,700 in restitution to victims in 29 states. 

They were arrested March 6, 2018, in Rapid City after using the bills at Targets in Sioux Falls and Rapid City. 

Rapid City police identified Franklin through a Target surveillance video after staff reported receiving fake bills, according to a statement from a Secret Service agent. The Secret Service investigates counterfeit currency cases in addition to providing protection for presidents and other people. 

Police then searched the trio's hotel room and found fake money and the equipment to create it, according to the statement of factual basis documents they signed. The group created the fake $100 bills by bleaching genuine $10 bills and printing the image of a $100 bill on top of the $10 bills.

Investigators searched the group's computers and found they had been using four serial numbers on the fake money for at least three years, the documents say. The Secret Service was able to use the serial numbers to trace the bills and find victims.

Bill preventing invasive procedures at school fails on House floor

PIERRE | Rep. Julie Frye-Mueller's bill to prohibit the conduct of certain physical examinations or screenings on students in a school district without parental consent failed to pass Thursday afternoon in the House of Representatives.

After passing out of committee with a 7-5 vote, the measure failed on the House floor by a vote of 35-34 with one member excused.

The Rapid City delegation was split 7-3 on HB1156 with Frye-Muller, Taffy Howard, Tina Mulally, Chris Johnson, Tony Randolph, Scyller Borglam and Tim Goodwin in favor of the measure and Mike Diedrich, David Johnson and Jess Olson opposed.

HB1156 says in part "No nonemergency, invasive physical examination or screening may be conducted on any student in any school district without the prior written consent of the student's parent or guardian. The written consent of the parent or guardian shall be obtained by the school district specifically for the particular examination or screening that is being conducted. No parental consent for any nonemergency, invasive physical examination or screening may be included as part of a routine consent form contained in a school handbook and signed annually by parents or guardians at the start of a school year. Parental consent shall be obtained separately and distinctly for each examination or screening conducted."

Some opponents of the bill claimed that schools aren't performing invasive procedures so the bill solves a problem that doesn't exist. Frye-Mueller argued that no one knows if schools are performing these procedures and this act would protect parents' rights

"This was a great bill that only improved federal law," Frye-Mueller said after the vote. Because it was a close vote, Frye-Mueller asked for the measure to be considered again in a future floor session.

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House rejects bill to prevent municipalities from banning plastic bags

PIERRE | The effort to keep municipalities from banning plastic bags died Wednesday in the House.

SB54 would have kept cities from restricting the use of plastic auxiliary containers, beverage containers, garbage bags, straws used for beverage consumption or plastic packaging materials. It was referred to jokingly at times in the Legislature as a “ban on bans.”

The bill was earlier endorsed by the Senate on a vote of 22-12.

Rep. Thomas Brunner, R-Nisland, said the more he looked at the bill, the more he liked it since it didn’t restrict the way businesses operate.

“It allows businesses to serve their customers,” Brunner said. “We don’t need to be getting in the way of serving their customers.”

“This is a bill about local control,” Rep. Kelly Sullivan, D-Sioux Falls said while asking that cities be allowed to make their own decisions about what to ban.

Some city governments in South Dakota have discussed a ban on plastics, but none have enacted one.

“This doesn’t strike me as a crisis in South Dakota,” said Rep. Scyller Borglum, R-Rapid City.

The bill was defeated in the House on a vote of 30-33.