Elizabeth Kraus, running for the District 33 S.D. House republican nomination

If you said Elizabeth Kraus had a conflict of interest on the uranium-mining bill, I wouldn't argue. But I might ask: "Yeah, what else is new?"

Conflicts from personal connections on certain bills aren't new in the state Legislature. The Kraus thing is just a bit more interesting than most.

Here are the facts:

Kraus is a Republican state senator from District 33 in Rapid City. Her husband, Jim Munro, is a senior design engineer for Powertech USA, the company working to mine uranium near Edgemont.

Powertech pushed a bill in the 2011 Legislature to reduce state control on uranium mining and leave the heavy lifting to the feds. Kraus voted for the bill.

Is that a conflict of interest? Sure. The larger question is: So what?

So plenty, says Becky Leas, an opponent of both the reduction of state regulation of uranium-mine permitting and the mining itself. Leas said Kraus's direct connection to Powertech is a clear conflict with troubling implications.

"I find it interesting that nobody seems to care about conflict of interest issues out here," said Leas, a transplant to South Dakota from Pennsylvania. "This stuff wouldn't fly in Pennsylvania without big investigations."

Investigations are unlikely here. Kraus hasn't broken any laws. A spokesperson for the state attorney general calls it an ethical question, not a legal issue.

The South Dakota Constitution says legislators can't have any director or indirect interest in a contract with the state or a county authorized by any law during the legislator's term or for one year after. The constitution also prohibits legislators from being appointed or elected to certain other civil positions.

Neither applies to Kraus. Financial contracts and regulatory permits - which Powertech still needs from the state on water issues - are considered different legal animals. She says charges of wrongdoing are out of line.

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"I had full disclosure," she said. "All they have to do is look up the paperwork. I didn't hide anything. And I didn't bring the bill. I just voted for it."

So did plenty of others. SB158 passed the Senate 29-2 and the House 57-11. It wouldn't have mattered if Kraus had abstained. But she didn't feel the need. That was fine with Legislative Research Council director Jim Fry of Pierre.

Fry knows plenty about the Legislature and what is considered proper. He didn't fret about Kraus voting on SB158. In a state with 800,000 people, personal connections are everywhere, he said.

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"Where would you stop with a thing like this in a state with a citizen Legislature? We have people from all walks of life voting on all sorts of bills," Fry said. "Do insurance people not vote on insurance bills? Do farmers not vote on agriculture bills? Do hospital administrators or doctors not vote on bills that affect them?"

Kraus disclosed her husband's relationship to Powertech in papers filed with the secretary of state. And she discussed it with Fry as she began her Senate term.

"I have absolutely nothing to hide," she said. "I followed the rules and voted according to my Republican principles and according to my constituents."

That constituent part is debatable, of course. I couldn't guess how District 33 voters would have decided SB158. But Kraus believes she followed their wishes.

Like any legislator, she'll get an official reading on voter preference in the next general election. That's where questions of job performance and personal ethics tend to get answered.

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com.


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