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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

March 11, 2019

American News, Aberdeen, March 9

Legislators fail to find enough help for struggling nursing homes

Mobridge. Madison. Tripp. Roslyn. Bryant.

All of those South Dakota towns have seen the doors on their nursing homes shuttered in recent years.

And in recent days, the Violet Tschetter Memorial Home in Huron has been added to the list. It will close by May 10. Like others, the facility cited not being able to sustain operations due to being severely underfunded.

When it comes to the state’s nursing home crisis, Deb Peters said it best as a guest on South Dakota Public Broadcasting Feb. 28.

“If you’re treading water in an ocean and the sharks are circling, innovation is not always the best possible option,” she said.

As the vice president of communications and member relations for the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations and a former state legislator, Peters is well-positioned to use that analogy.

It’s an opinion we share.

One-time funding might be a Band-Aid for a much bigger problem, but a bill offering $8 million didn’t make it out of committee.

The only measure relating to nursing homes still alive this legislative session is for innovation grants, but it doesn’t offer any immediate help.

Now there are just a handful of days left in the session, and it’s too late to file any new bills.

The sad part is that any measure that would have offered true help — money — to struggling nursing homes was killed.

That’s frustrating because perhaps it could have saved nursing homes that will close before a long-term solution is found.

Senate Bill 173 would appropriate $5 million from the general fund for nursing home innovation grants and hire an outside consultant to review the nursing home rate methodology.

The review is needed because our state offers nursing homes the lowest Medicaid reimbursement rate in the U.S., according to the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations. But it also means legislators have to wait another year to have more information.

Meanwhile, nursing homes are losing hundreds or thousands of dollars every day. So before the problem is fixed, more will close. The proposed increase simply won’t be enough.

In her January budget address, Gov. Kristi Noem proposed $3.8 million in one-time funding to give nursing homes and other Medicaid service providers a 2.5 percent increase. Another $5.8 million allocation would raise the reimbursement rate by an additional 2.5 percent as an ongoing increase.

At the March 2 legislative cracker barrel session in town, Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, spoke to the expected increase.

“It might not be enough, but it will be something,” he said.

That’s a problem.

While there’s been talk of working to save nursing homes, meaningful action has been limited, the result of the state’s frugal and sometimes miserly mindset.

South Dakota has had a moratorium on the number of nursing home beds allowed in the state for years. When a facility closes, its beds can be transferred to another — usually in a larger city.

So while the number of beds will not change, the distribution of the beds will. And that will likely force more members of the oldest generation to spend the final years of their lives farther from home.

This issue caught nobody by surprise, so we expected better.

Clint Graybull, senior executive director of post-acute care at Sanford Health, shared powerful words on South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

“We’re (at crisis level). Nobody likes this. This isn’t something anybody is happy about. The urgency is there,” he said. “We’re behind. We’re gonna have to move forward ... but we will see more closures before we get to ... sustainable, ongoing reimbursement.”

In other words, it’s already too late.

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, March 8

Noem’s pipeline package thwarts First Amendment

The South Dakota Legislature should be winding down as it heads into the final days of the 2019 session.

Instead, in a flurry of last-minute outrage and “emergency” clauses, state lawmakers and the governor are making plays to bend the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to suit their purposes.

We find it disturbing that, in several of these cases, they attempt to subvert freedom of assembly by invoking their singular interpretation of freedom of speech.

What they conveniently ignore is that these fundamental guarantees are two sides of the same constitutional coin.

Take the pair of emergency measures brought by Gov. Kristi Noem that were submitted long after the deadline to submit new bills and rammed through the Senate and the House in a mere 72 hours, allowing for minimal debate.

The measures target expected protests of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline by Native American tribal members and their allies inside and outside the state. A federal judge halted preliminary construction on the pipeline late last year after finding that its approval violated tribal treaties with the U.S. government.

Senate Bill 189 outlines a new crime, “riot boosting,” despite there already being functional laws on the books that cover “encouraging or soliciting violence in riot.” The new law details criminal culpability for donors or vocal supporters if violence occurs at what begins as a peaceful protest.

Senate Bill 190 establishes the cynically named PEACE (Pipeline Engagement Activity Coordination Expenses) Fund to collect financial liabilities from “riot boosters” for up to three times the estimated damage or expenses incurred. The legislation allows a third party, presumably TransCanada, to partner with the state in these lawsuits.

Noem’s still-functioning gubernatorial campaign website yearns for “a different kind of relationship with South Dakota’s nine tribes, one that truly embraces the meaning of Dakota, or ally.”

It’s difficult to believe that she is operating as a good faith ally with this move — after closed door meetings with TransCanada — to silence objection to the pipeline running through sacred Native American lands.

The American Civil Liberties Union is weighing its options against the approved bills as they head to Noem’s desk. The ACLU has condemned the measures as “unnecessary” and “meant to chill speech.”

Noem has said she supports the freedoms of assembly and speech. Yet these bills double-down on the 2017 anti-protest law initiated by former Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

The governor has also called herself a supporter of property rights in the same statement where she praises a project that has utilized eminent domain to claim private land along its route.

In her Monday press conference, Noem insisted that the bills create a legal avenue “to go after out-of-state money funding riots that go beyond expressing a viewpoint but instead aim to slowdown the pipeline build.”

She further claimed that “the most typical national offender that we see funding these types of activities would be George Soros,” echoing wider national right-wing talking points about the philanthropist, who frequently supports progressive causes. A Soros nonprofit spokesperson said that there was no involvement in North Dakota’s Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

It’s nothing new for South Dakota Republicans to try to halt out of-state support for political viewpoints that they oppose. House Bill 1094, the most recent attempt to limit not only out-of-state influence but also the ability of South Dakota citizens to make law through ballot initiatives, is on its way to Noem’s desk, too.

And a bill killed earlier in the session to firm up Board of Regents control over state college campus principles of “intellectual diversity” and “free speech” was raised from the dead. House Bill 1187′s resuscitation followed controversy last week over the Student Bar Association at the University of South Dakota School of Law renaming “Hawaiian Day” and deciding not to distribute leis after a student raised concerns about possible cultural insensitivity.

The timing of the bill’s revival is telling. Conservative commentators regularly lament such instances of what they term “political correctness.” Their push for “free speech” on campus often swells immediately after a university rejects a conservative speaker over student objections.

While we question some of the motives behind this particular bill and have concerns over Title IX-related comments made by current Board of Regents president Kevin Schieffer, we resoundingly advocate for a free exchange of viewpoints at universities. College campuses have long been and should remain a proving ground for ideas and a bastion for civil liberties, supported by federal precedent.

American history is filled with examples of opposition to powerful forces, including on college campuses. It’s been messy. Freedom is messy. Democracy is messy.

But it’s important to note that freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from criticism. It is imperative that we acknowledge the right of Americans, whether students or tribal protesters, to speak out, with the understanding that they are bound by the same laws that guide us every day.

When words and their meanings are twisted to advance an ideological agenda, up can become down, black can become white, right can become wrong. It can be as simple as coining a scary new name for a crime that’s already on the books to preemptively shut down argument.

In the end, we see it for what it is: An effort to suppress opposition in favor of powerful interests, a far cry from the constitutional freedoms that our country’s founders had in mind.

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Rapid City Journal, March 7

Let voters decide on sports betting

South Dakota bet the town when it opened Deadwood to casino gambling three decades ago.

When two thirds of South Dakota voters approved that wager in November 1988, Deadwood was a dying historic relic 12 miles off the interstate with no money, no commerce and mostly boarded up buildings. Gaming has since injected the place with $350 million in public and private dollars. Crumbling infrastructure has been rebuilt. Gaming there currently supports roughly 1,300 jobs. Not a bad payoff.

Success didn’t come without costs, but so far South Dakotans have continued to support what they wrought. In 2014, 57 percent of state voters approved an amendment paving the way for keno, craps and roulette in Deadwood.

Gaming officials now seek lawmakers’ help in presenting voters with a constitutional amendment to enable sports betting there and in tribal casinos. A House panel dealt the measure a setback Monday, but a procedural move offers another spin of the wheel. The Senate has already voted to approve.

Without House support, Deadwood must collect nearly 34,000 signatures to bring the question directly to voters. Would anyone like to wager against their ability to do that?

Gov. Kristi Noem opposes making it easy for Deadwood to bring the vote forward, citing personal preference and financial reasons.

“Gov. Noem has made it clear that she does not wish to have gambling expanded in South Dakota,” Revenue Department Deputy Secretary David Wiest told lawmakers Monday. The administration also argues that regulatory costs would exceed revenues generated.

The latter might be true. A recent analysis by the Legislative Research Council estimates the constitutional amendment would result in roughly $2 million in casino revenues and about $185,000 in new tax collections during FY2022. Total Deadwood gambling revenues were roughly $100 million in 2017.

In Nevada, sports books contribute only 2.4 percent of gambling revenue statewide — dwarfed by the proceeds from table games and slots. Even so, March Madness still makes for an impressive Vegas party.

Deadwood Gaming Association Executive Director Mike Rodman acknowledges sports betting wouldn’t be a big payoff for Deadwood, but he argues state casinos must stay current in an increasingly competitive environment. Political handicappers estimate sports betting could soon expand to 20 states. The floodgates were opened last year when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal prohibition.

“We certainly think that it is important that Deadwood maintain itself as a competitive gaming destination,” Rodman said. “We need to have those same game types that other destinations have.”

Sports betting proponents say approval could encourage visits from a younger crowd and help stabilize the casino workforce over slow winters.

In the grand scheme, any small deficit in regulatory cost was long ago underwritten by the gambling proceeds collected over a generation. The state should be willing to write off any paltry incremental debt as winter tourism promotion.

As for state gambling, that horse left the barn long ago. After three decades of the grand experiment, is sports betting the place to draw a line in the sand?

We say let the voters decide.

We suspect they will anyway.

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