Legislative Highlights

Posted February 5, 2013 at 7:16 pm


Bills are now starting to pass through both chambers and the activity has certainly picked up in the 2013 South Dakota legislature. This week on the House floor the bill that caught the most attention was HB-1087-an act to authorize individual school boards to create, establish and supervise individual school sentinel programs to promote school safety. The bill certainly has caught the attention of the media including national media of FOX.

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It is of interest to me that bills that have really only passed through a chambers committee and floor get the national media attention when they still have at least three more hurdles to get through in order to become law. The three hurdles would be the Senate Committee, Senate Floor and then the Governor’s signature. Of course this does not take into consideration any amendments the bill may receive that could redirect the process back to the House. The bill passed through the House floor on a 42-27 vote, primarily along party lines with 11 Republicans also opposing the bill. Rep. Gibson and I both voted against the bill. I like that the bill allowed the option for local school districts to decide whether to participate, but I do not like to pass legislation to address a potential problem that might create another potential problem. The bill now heads to the Senate. The South Dakota Criminal Justice Initiative SB 70 that I spoke of in an earlier article now has passed through both chambers and is headed to the Governor’s desk for signature.

Two of my prime sponsored bills passed through their respective House Committee this week and will have been to the House floor by the time you read this article. The first bill is HB 1157-an act to increase certain penalties regarding the sale of petroleum products. Currently, if ethanol is mislabeled or misrepresented to the consumer, it is a Class 1 Misdemeanor which carries the maximum penalty that can be levied by the Judicial System of a $2000 fine and a year in jail. Currently, all other fuels at the pump if mislabeled or misrepresented to the consumer are a Class 2 Misdemeanor and would carry a maximum fine of $500 and 30 days in jail. Jail time is rarely ever a part of the sentence. This bill would make the penalty for mislabeling or misrepresenting any fuel at any fuel pump in South Dakota a Class 1 Misdemeanor. The bill passed through the House Commerce and Energy Committee on a 10-3 vote.

The other bill I prime sponsored that went through the House Ag and Energy Committee on a vote of support of 9 to 3 is HB 1156-an act to revise certain provisions concerning non-resident waterfowl licenses. This bill is supported by the Game Fish and Parks (GF&P) and the Administration. Currently, non-resident waterfowl is the only license or species of wildlife in the state that is not managed by the GF&P. It is managed by the South Dakota Legislature. This bill is not increasing the number of non-resident licenses. In fact, it takes it to zero and will allow the GF&P to establish the number and guidelines.

I realize this topic is highly controversial and of particular interest to many of our local sportsmen and could take pages of facts and details to lay out both sides. I want the readers to know I am a sportsman and conservationist and this bill will create an overall “Wildlife Management Plan” for South Dakota.

Here are just a few quick facts. The numbers of resident waterfowl licenses have gone from a peak of over 50,000 to now below 20,000 and the actual number of residents surveyed hunting waterfowl in the state is 13,394. At the same time, the number of waterfowl went from 1 million to 6 million. The GF&P has a history of properly managing these numbers of non-resident licenses. The 1985 legislature gave the GF&P Commission the authority to issue up to 4,000 non-resident licenses and the GF&P Commission did not issue to that level until nine years later in 1994. This is just one example that the GF&P has a track record of making the proper decision.

Finally, a bill of local interest is SB 159 which will address funding for ESL. It passed the Senate Education Committee on a 7-0 vote. Sen. White, Rep. Gibson and I are all supporting this important piece of legislation. Thank you for your interest in state government and allowing me to represent you. You can contact me at 350-1371 or at my personal email at dickwerner_5@hotmail.com or my legislative email at Rep.Werner@state.us.sd.

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During week four of the 88th Session, committee calendars are full and the Legislative bodies are in full swing debating bills. On the House floor this week Legislators debated the merits of the so-called Sentinel Bill –or House Bill 1087- which would allow any school board to create, establish, and supervise the arming of school employees, hired security personnel or volunteers to secure or enhance the deterrence of physical threat and defense of the school, its students, its staff, and members of the public on the school premises against violent attack. While we all want to keep South Dakota’s children safe, allowing teachers, administrators and staff to carry guns in schools actually makes them unsafe.

I argued on the House floor that current South Dakota law is adequate because it already allows schools to have a school resource officer. As a former Communications Operator for the Phoenix Police Department, I adamantly maintain that an officer of the law should be the only “authorized” person to carry a weapon in our schools. Voters who contacted me this week overwhelmingly agreed that this bill is reactive, unwarranted and unnecessary.

Proponents claimed that schools are known to be gun-free zones thus increasing their vulnerability, but most places where families gather are gun-free. So how should we as a society react? Should we have armed guards at our churches, city parks, movie theaters, and restaurants or our children’s sports activities? Opponents contend that this bill will do nothing to stop violence. They feel our teachers, staff and administrators should support and encourage learning instead of worrying about carrying guns in our schools.

In an article from Time.com entitled Your Brain in a Shootout: Guns, Fear and Flawed Instincts, by Amanda Ripley, I found the last paragraph to be particularly pertinent to HB1087’s fallibility: “With all this uncertainty, it is useful to remember that the odds of a U.S. student’s being killed at school are about 1 in 3 million, lower than the odds of being struck by lightning. Schools are safer now than they have been in 20 years. Kids do become victims of gun violence far too often in the U.S.-but almost always outside school, far from gun-free zones or teachers with pistols.” Unfortunately HB1087 passed out of the House with a 42-27 vote, so it will now be up to the Senate to decide its fate.

The second hotly debated bill on the House floor this week was Senate Bill 70, an act to improve public safety, also known as the South Dakota Public Safety Improvement Act. This act is a compilation of criminal justice reforms for our state. Its purpose is to improve public safety, hold offenders more accountable, and control corrections spending. The main objections voiced by the opponents of this 33-page bill are as follows:

First, it should be broken down into eight separate bills as our South Dakota State Constitution clearly allows only one subject per bill.

Second, in Section 54, ingestion of a controlled drug or substance is changed from a Class 2 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony. South Dakota is the only state in the nation that has ingestion as a Class 6 felony.

And third, Section 52 of the bill eliminates preliminary hearings in our state. The South Dakota Trial Lawyers Association and the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers objected to this section.

However, all proponents and opponents to SB70 agreed that the bill has far more positive provisions than negative. SB70 passed overwhelmingly in the House and will now move to the Governor’s desk for his signature. Thank you for your support and contacting me on state government issues. I can be reached at (605) 352-9862 or peggygibson@hotmail.com.

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