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Area lawmakers discuss wide range of topics at legislative forum

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 11th, 2014




HURON – Bills running the gamut from joint parental custody after divorces to a texting while driving ban to new open meetings requirements for the South Dakota High School Activities Association are in the mix as legislators move deeper into the session, District 22 lawmakers said Saturday.

With more than 400 bills in the hopper — some of them as many as 60 pages long — it’s a time-consuming process to wade through all of them.

The City Commission room in the municipal building was packed yet again Saturday morning as legislators briefed constituents and answered their questions at the second in the series of legislative forums hosted by the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Huron Chamber & Visitors Bureau. The next legislative coffee is Feb. 22.

A proposal that would ultimately be decided by South Dakota voters would expand the term limits of legislators from eight years to 12. It has passed the House and now moves to the Senate.

“Personally, I have no agenda on it,” Rep. Dick Werner, R-Huron, said. “I’m just trying to get through my first term.”

But backers say eight years is not enough time to gain the experience needed to be an effective lawmaker, especially in leadership positions.

Legislators are dealing with 447 bills that have been introduced so far. As they do so, Sen. Jim White, R-Huron, said he has been impressed with the bipartisan atmosphere.

Democratic Rep. Peggy Gibson’s bill to ban red-light cameras and speeding cameras, one of her measures introduced on behalf of a constituent, passed the House by a 69-1 margin. Werner joked that he was not the lone negative vote.

Gibson maintains that the cameras are primarily used to raise money and not to improve safety.

A bill encouraging shared parenting in divorces unanimously passed the Senate as part of a compromise after several years of debate and unsuccessful measures.

SB 74 calls for judges to use shared parenting as an option while considering the various factors involved.

It is based on an Iowa custody law that gives children substantial time with both parents. Judges will still have the final say.

“I think it’s a decent compromise,” Gibson said of the bill, which now goes to the House.

A bill to require drug testing for welfare recipients was killed in committee. Making the assumption that everyone who is poor is a drug addict is hugely discriminatory, Gibson said. It is also costly.

“They have done some spot checking and it has not been a problem,” she said.

Legislators are once again considering a statewide ban on texting and driving. A handful of cities, including Huron, have passed local ordinances.

The proposal in Pierre would make it a secondary offense, as it is in Huron, meaning drivers could only be cited if they were stopped for another infraction.

Young people need to be taught about the perils of distracted driving due to texting, White said.

“As they get older it will be part of their every day endeavor, just like putting their seatbelt on,” he said.

Gibson said a cultural change is needed. “It is horribly dangerous,” she said of texting and driving.

One questioner suggested it was another example of government taking individual rights away.

Gibson said other states, like California, are tougher, and make it a primary offense when law enforcement officers see drivers texting or their vehicles swerving.

Werner described an experience he had when he was driving on a San Diego freeway and found himself in a multi-vehicle wreck initiated by a texting driver. The first thing an officer said to Werner when he rapped on his window was that he wanted to see his cell phone to find out if he was texting at the time of the accident.

As it is now, with only a handful of South Dakota cities banning it, it’s also a question of uniformity, Gibson said. As they drive from town to town, motorists don’t know the local regulations.

A statewide law would mean that not every city would have to deal with it individually, Werner agreed.

In answer to a question, the statewide ban as proposed would be a secondary offense with no exemptions for law enforcement.

Meanwhile, a bill that would require the South Dakota High School Activities Association to abide by the state’s open meetings and open records laws has ramifications in terms of tournaments Huron has historically hosted.

While Huron has benefited economically from the tournaments, the association currently can decide in closed meetings to move them to Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

“It’s a huge deal for Huron,” Werner said. “We have our eyes on it and a lot of legislators do.”

The association’s board is promising to be more transparent, and its attorney argues that the organization is not a public entity and not required to comply with open meetings laws.

The board adopted a resolution designed to ensure transparency.

But Werner said he found it odd that the resolution came after the board discussed the open meetings law in an executive session behind closed doors.

Gibson said there might be a summer task force appointed to discuss the issues involved. Hosting tournaments is an economic development issue for Huron, she said.

“We do not want to be left out of this equation,” she said.

For the complete article see the 02-09-2014 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 02-09-2014 paper.


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