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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

Posted January 12

The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Jan. 9

SD needs harsher sentences to deter vehicular homicide

Vehicular homicide has hit south central South Dakota hard in recent years.

Young lives were lost in cases when vehicular homicide charges were filed in crashes in rural Davison County, the city of Mitchell, Wagner and rural Charles Mix County recently, forcing families to say goodbye to loved ones as young as 9, 22, 25 and 46 years old.

While some of those vehicular homicide charges were dismissed and others have yet to be tried by the courts, the current maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine is nowhere near enough for the loss of life incurred in these tragic events.

With South Dakota's 2017 legislative session kicking off, we're hoping to finally see some changes made to deter this awful crime from occurring in the future.

That's why we commend state Attorney General Marty Jackley for making another attempt to classify vehicular homicide as a violent crime. Jackley's bill, called Senate Bill 24, would force those convicted of vehicular homicide to serve at least half of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole, instead of the 30 percent mandated currently for nonviolent crimes.

After Jackley announced his proposal, along with five other bills, the father of one vehicular homicide victim continued his call for more serious reform, and we agree something needs to be done.

Gregg Spindler — the father of Maegan Spindler, a 25-year-old who was one of two victims in a Charles Mix County crash in which Ronald Fischer was convicted of two counts of vehicular homicide — told The Daily Republic last week he was cynical Jackley's bill would pass after it failed to emerge from a legislative conference committee last year.

But we're hoping the 2017 Legislature, which includes several new faces, realizes the severity of this crime and the major impact it's had on our region and the families of vehicular homicide victims.

With 22 vehicular homicide convictions since 2012 and six others facing charges, this is no small problem in South Dakota. Innocent lives have been lost, and now's the time for the South Dakota Legislature to establish a stronger deterrent for what should absolutely be deemed a violent crime.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Jan. 12

Amusement park rides need regulation

South Dakota state government has decided that it would rather not be involved in regulating amusement park rides that are popular at county fairs and other events but at the same time can be deadly dangerous as we have seen in other parts of the nation.

This includes roller coasters, Tilt-A-Whirls, the Twister, Ferris wheels and all the other gravity-defying rides that children enjoy and parents trust are regulated and safe.

But now the Bureau of Administration has submitted House Bill 107, which removes the state from the list of entities that amusement-ride operators and carnival owners are required to send their affidavits to that certify their rides have been inspected properly.

The bill will be considered by the Legislature just four years after an industry-friendly measure pushed through by Sen. Al Novstrup, a Republican from Aberdeen, was overwhelmingly approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

The measure exempted fixed parks like Thunder Road, which Novstrup owns stock in and is managed by his son, David, also a lawmaker and the general manager and co-owner of the Thunder Road park in Aberdeen. The legislation does require minimal state reporting standards for the traveling amusement parks but includes a ten-point list of rider prohibitions that makes it more difficult to successfully sue them.

In September 2015, Journal reporter Seth Tupper wrote an investigative piece that detailed how Novstrup, who had a clear conflict of interest, shepherded the bill through the Legislature.

The Bureau of Administration, which says in the logo on its website's home page that it is "serving the citizens and government agencies of South Dakota," said in an email to the Journal that "the intent of the bill is to streamline the process of filing inspection affidavits to ensure that these organizations who are involved in the event receive the affidavits."

What spokeswoman Leah Svendsen didn't say in her email is that the bill removes the state from doing any regulation of amusement park rides, something now done by 35 other states.

Instead, the state will in effect delegate that task to city and county governments that lack the expertise and resources of state government.

Some have wondered if the real intent is for the state to reduce its liability or responsibility if someone is injured or killed in an amusement park ride. Others wonder if this is the state's response to the Journal's in-depth look at how the measure sailed through the Legislature.

Whatever the reason, the Bureau of Administration's desire to not regulate an industry that derives its profits from children and their parents can only raise questions about its priorities.

Rather than do less when it comes to protecting children, the state should do more to insure that every precaution is taken to see that these rides are properly inspected. Lawmakers should reject this bill and instead craft legislation that demands more state oversight of amusement park rides.

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American News, Aberdeen, Jan. 12

Pruitt should concern SD delegation

For South Dakota's congressional delegation, Scott Pruitt should offer some concern.

On the one hand, Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been a critic of federal overreach. So much of a critic, in fact, that, "Pruitt has spent much of his energy as (Oklahoma) attorney general fighting the very agency he is being nominated to lead," according to a recent story in the Washington Post.

On the other hand, coming from an oil-dependent state such as Oklahoma, can Pruitt actually be a friend to Midwestern ethanol interests?

This is the central concern Republican Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune should have through Pruitt's confirmation process.

What happens next with the EPA will undoubtedly affect South Dakotans and our way of life.

As EPA head, Pruitt would have an enormous influence over an EPA ethanol-blend mandate that has overall been good for the economy and citizens of South Dakota.

The mandate is part of the Renewable Fuel Standard — or RFS — program. According to the EPA, the RFS "requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace or reduce the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel, heating oil or jet fuel."

South Dakota groups — such as the South Dakota Corn Council and South Dakota Corn Growers Association — have been advocates of the RFS. They oppose reductions in the standards or further cuts to the program.

According to a 2012 study commissioned by the South Dakota Ethanol Producers Association, the ethanol industry had a $3.8 billion economic impact on South Dakota that year. That was a 361 percent increase from a 2004 study.

In 2015, Thune joined other Midwest senators, including Iowa's Chuck Grassley, in calling for maintaining the RFS.

As Oklahoma AG in 2013, Pruitt offered rare praise to the EPA when it decided to reduce the ethanol mandate. At the time, it determined that only 15 billion gallons of ethanol needed to be blended into the nation's fuel supply, down from 18.15 billion gallons.

"The evidence is clear that the current ethanol fuel mandate is unworkable. The decision by the EPA to lower that standard is good news for Oklahoma consumers," Pruitt said in a statement. "It's good the Administration finally recognized the concerns of consumers and a variety of industries and took steps to correct this flawed program."

A flawed program or a necessary one?

In a media call last week, Rounds praised Pruitt based on their brief meeting.

"It was a very refreshing discussion," Rounds said. "He's one of the guys in line with South Dakota as we have sued the EPA about not following sound science. He will be a breath of fresh air for local and state administrators to work with."

True, Pruitt's anti-feds bluster will appeal to fellow GOP'ers.

But Rounds, Thune and other Midwestern state leaders should be absolutely concerned by Trump's 2016 promise to "get rid of (the EPA) in almost every form."

If that is the goal, Trump has picked the right man for the job.

And if he is sincere in this goal, can an oil-friendly EPA chief resist dismantling the RFS?

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