Out working the range this next week…

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be out working the hard scrabble range of Western South Dakota this next week…   If you call sitting in an annual company retreat in Sturgis “working the range.”   I mean, riding a steel folding chair and talking about insurance sales (and my part, claims) for outdoor recreation venues is kind of like working unforgiving land, isn’t it?

Seriously though, I’m going to be largely out of pocket this next week, but I’ll be monitoring things, and posting when I have a free moment.  (Darn jobs. I could post all day long but for gainful employment.)

US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Column: The Internet Needs a Law, Not a Regulation

The Internet Needs a Law, Not a Regulation
By Sen. John Thune 

Too often, politicians and activists of all stripes prefer slogans over solutions. Recently, Silicon Valley players, big and small, and many Washington, D.C.-based activist groups led a protest to “save net neutrality” from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) proposal to undo regulations the agency adopted two years ago. True supporters of an open internet, however, should demand more than another slogan. What the internet needs to end regulatory uncertainty and recurring threats of litigation is an enduring, bipartisan law from Congress to protect internet freedom by codifying widely accepted net neutrality protections.

As we consider the future of the internet, we should also remember the history that got us here. Put in place after President Barack Obama pressured regulators to scrap efforts to find agreement, the FCC’s 2015 order regulating broadband internet under a Great Depression-era statute (“Title II” of the Communications Act of 1934) had support from just one political party. This action failed to embrace a self-evident reality — administrative rules, especially those affecting all internet users, need to have a broad consensus of support behind them in order to withstand future political changes. This reality has hit some activists too late, and others are still trying to ignore it — to the detriment of the very protections they claim to support.

Although President Obama tried to justify the use of unilateral administrative action as a remedy for supposed reluctance by Congress to work together, the FCC’s partisan proceeding actually advanced, despite pleas from myself and other Republican colleagues who wanted to work with the Democrats on a new bipartisan law.

The draft proposal we released more than two and a half years ago as a starting point for discussions would have outlawed the online practices of blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of legal content over broadband cable and wireless connections. It put forth a 21st century framework to protect internet freedom by ensuring that corporate owners of broadband infrastructure couldn’t use their role to manipulate the internet experience, and guaranteeing that the sometimes heavy hand of government wouldn’t itself disrupt the positive disruption that has allowed the internet to thrive for two decades. I called for a bipartisan legislative solution before the Obama administration’s partisan actions, I pushed for it after them, and I continue to fight for it.

Like many organizers of the recent protest, I vigorously support an open internet. But as a senator representing a rural state, I am concerned that such protests often given short shrift to ensuring all Americans have access to high-speed internet.

Today, 34 million Americans, mostly living in rural America, lack access to high-speed broadband services at home. As broadband service providers (and there are nearly 2,000 primarily small providers in the U.S.) weigh the profitability of making investments in high-cost areas, fear of future shifts in the political winds still loom large. Stated bluntly, investments to connect more Americans in states like South Dakota may be slowed, or not made at all, if providers fear that regulators will pass new restrictions on their ability to recover costs and make fair profits from new infrastructure investments.

Left unchecked, some believe that the views of regulators toward the online ecosystem will continue to shift with the federal government’s political leadership. This, in turn, creates a lack of stability both for those companies that invest in the internet’s metaphorical pipes and those who invest in the data flowing through them. This presents a problem for those who favor keeping the FCC’s 2015 regulatory approach and also those who want to throw it out the window. As one technology reporter observed earlier this year about past and potential future shifts in FCC regulations, “We’re in danger of having a system that combines the worst features of a world with network neutrality and a world without it.”

The solution to this dilemma, passing enduring bipartisan legislation, is obvious and — no, I’m not kidding — within Congress’s reach. If Democrats and Republicans have the political support to work together, we can together enact a framework that provides the net neutrality protections wanted by so many internet users, reasonably limits the whims of partisan regulators, and grants the necessary flexibility to protect consumers from future harm.

Let’s not settle for slogans and instead demand a resolution that finds agreement and concludes this debate. Let’s embrace the idea that the internet is a symbiotic ecosystem. Many businesses and individuals contribute to the internet’s success, and ultimately they need each other to ensure that users continue to benefit from it. True supporters of a free and open internet should spend their energy driving leaders toward a lasting and bipartisan solution while rejecting efforts to politicize and further divide an emerging consensus about net neutrality protections.

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US Senator Mike Rounds’ Weekly Column: Shaking Up the Status Quo in Washington

Shaking Up the Status Quo in Washington
By U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)

When you elected me as your United States Senator, you sent me to Washington to shake up the status quo and fix the mess we’ve been dealing with for years: the Obamacare disaster, our ballooning debt, overregulation and tax reform. In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been in office, these are the issues I’ve focused on. While some progress has been made, there is much more work to be done to get us back on track. That’s why I was happy about the recent announcement that the Senate will be cutting short the August in-state work period to spend more time working in Washington so we can make further progress on these important issues.

I was part of a group of Republican senators who sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the end of June, requesting that rather than spending the whole month of August away from Washington, we remain in D.C. for a few weeks longer to get our work done. The fiscal year ends on September 30, and we still need to pass a budget to fund the government. We’ve been working every day on an agreement to repeal and replace Obamacare, and tax reform is a major priority that we’d like to accomplish before the end of the year. For these reasons, we found it necessary to request that we remain in Washington longer than planned and keep working on these issues that, once passed, will greatly benefit South Dakota families. I support Leader McConnell’s decision, and I’m eager to roll up my sleeves and work with my colleagues to get much-needed results.

Meanwhile, I continue to get home to South Dakota nearly every weekend and get input from folks on the issues we’re working on. During the Fourth of July in-state work period, I appreciated the chance to meet people at parades, pow-wows and coffees. The one thing nearly everyone continues to tell me when I’m traveling across the state is that they want to see results, not rhetoric. Nobody wants the status quo to continue on.

We expect to be back in South Dakota for our in-state work period starting mid-August, and until then I will continue returning home on weekends to speak with South Dakotans about their concerns. We will also continue holding tele-townhalls so that I can hear from you firsthand even when my work requires me to remain in Washington. Tele-townhalls are open to all South Dakotans, and folks can call in to ask me any questions they may have. We’ll be distributing call-in information through our website, Facebook page and via our e-newsletter, the Rounds Report, which South Dakotans can subscribe to from my website, www.rounds.senate.gov. Additionally, folks are encouraged to call, email or stop by our offices in South Dakota or Washington. We go to great lengths to make ourselves available to answer questions and hear about the issues that are most important to you.

Getting real, positive results for the people of South Dakota remains my top priority. I’m happy that my colleagues agree that we need to be spending more time on issues like repealing and replacing Obamacare, reforming the tax code and passing a responsible budget. Families in South Dakota and across the country deserve better than a broken government, and this is one small step we can take toward fixing the problems in Washington.

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Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Too Many Veteran Lives Lost

Too Many Veteran Lives Lost
By Rep. Kristi Noem

20 veterans.

That’s how many, on average, we lose every day to suicide. 20 veterans a day. 600 a month. 7,300 a year.

At least one South Dakotan, however, is dedicated to bringing that number to zero and his efforts have earned him the 2017 Army Times Soldier of the Year Award.

Major Chris Mercado, a native of Sioux Falls who I met with earlier this month, joined the military after earning his degree from USD. By 2006, he was deployed to Baghdad, and upon completion of his tour, he volunteered to serve in Afghanistan. In 2014, he was deployed to Jerusalem. His service has earned him three Bronze Star Medals, the Meritorious Service Medal, and many other honors. But maybe his most heroic act was a six-hour phone call he took in the fall of 2014.

His former squad leader, Staff Sargent Justin Miller, had recently transitioned out of the military. Unemployed, Justin was abusing alcohol to deal with survivor’s guilt and contemplating suicide. He’d hit “rock bottom.” But Chris made time to listen and the thoughts Justin had of taking his own life began to dissipate.

The following year, Justin and Chris joined to form the Objective Zero Foundation and are now building a smart phone app to instantly and anonymously connect active-duty service members, veterans, and families with someone who can help. The user has the choice of connecting with someone (a licensed therapist, minister, another veteran or service member, a concerned citizen, etc.) by phone, over text, or on a video chat. In short, the app will put a community of support at the fingertips of those who desperately need someone to listen.

This app is one tool in a network of support for our veterans and service members.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, for instance, operates a Veterans Crisis Line, which can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Meanwhile, resources like Coaching Into Care offer support to the family and friends of veterans. Engaging these hidden heroes is critical.

Nationwide, there are more than 5 million military caregivers responding to the needs of current and former service members. And I’m proud both Aberdeen and Rapid City have been recognized as “Hidden Heroes Cities,” joining a network of communities across the country that are dedicated to increasing resources for military and veteran caregivers.

There is a role each of us can play to support service members and their families – and I encourage you to with this reminder from Major Mercado, which he wrote in a 2015 editorial: “For the American public, most of whom did not participate directly in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is easy to pretend that the fight is over — or to go along as if the wars never occurred at all. For veterans like Justin, however, the battle still rages, this time on the home front. His story is a stark reminder of the human costs of war — costs easily concealed by sympathy without empathy. It demands that we never forget, calls us all to action, and reminds us of the heavy burden carried by those who bore the brunt of the fight on our behalf.”

20 veterans a day. 600 a month. 7,300 a year. It’s too many.

**** Additional Notes: The Operation Zero app will be available in late-July. Veterans can access the 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Caregivers can access the Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274.

PHOTO: Rep. Noem Meets with Major Mercado

Left to Right: Betsey Mercado, Major Chris Mercado, Rep. Kristi Noem

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Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: The Direct Effects Of Financial Stewardship

The Direct Effects Of Financial Stewardship
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

As Governor of South Dakota, financial stewardship is one of my top priorities. When it comes to balancing the budget, managing the retirement system and maintaining our AAA credit ratings, I dive into the details. Although it may take time, responsible stewardship can bring financial rewards.

The latest example of this can be found in South Dakota’s unemployment insurance trust fund. In 2004, the cost of our state’s unemployment benefits began to exceed normal revenue. Continuing on the same path would mean the trust fund would decline and eventually become insolvent. The Rounds Administration and the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council addressed the problem by adopting a series of comprehensive solvency packages which began working to restore solvency.

Then in 2008, the Great Recession arrived in full force. Thousands of South Dakotans lost their jobs and made claims for unemployment. Weekly benefit payments from the trust fund were unprecedented. The trust fund balance was dropping faster than any predictions. By the end of 2009, South Dakota was forced to obtain federal loans to make benefit payments.

Emergency legislation was proposed during the 2010 Legislative Session which increased the taxable wage base through 2015, established higher tax rates for employers with negative account balances and raised the maximum tax rate to 9.5 percent. These reforms did the trick. In June 2010, the trust fund had steadily increased, and South Dakota was able to repay the federal loan of $24 million and start rebuilding.

Four years later, the trust fund was back in a good position, so we brought legislation reducing employer taxes starting Jan. 1, 2015. Even with the reduction, the trust fund continued to grow at a steady pace. Recognizing the need to plan for the future, the Advisory Council recommended that the unemployment trust fund be maintained at a level which could pay 19 months of benefits at the average highest cost rate.

As a result of this recommendation, last legislative session, the Legislature passed and I signed a bill to revise the current UI tax rates and provide a tax break to employers. Under this new law, employers receive a permanent tax break of 0.05 percent effective Jan. 1, 2018. This will save employers $2.3 million annually. Additionally, each year, if the trust fund balance on June 30 reaches the 19-month safety net threshold, employer tax rates will be reduced by another 0.1 percent. Based on the current balance of the trust fund, this means employers will save an additional $5 million for 2018.

Through much diligence and ongoing evaluation, South Dakota’s unemployment insurance trust fund is healthier now than it has ever been. I thank the Advisory Council, the SD Department of Labor and Regulation, and legislators for advancing policies that have put the fund in this unprecedented condition. They recognize, as I do, that employers have enough hurdles in front of them and we should give them a break when we can.

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Dusty Johnson’s 2018 2nd Quarter FEC Report: 122k raised, 36k Spent, 289k Cash on hand.

Congressional candidate Dusty Johnson’s campaign seems to be chugging along with his latest FEC report, noting that the candidate raised $122,213 over the past three months, spending $36,176, and maintaining $288,563 cash on hand, as his strong ground forces have been appearing at nearly every parade and event across the state in recent weeks.

Dusty Johnson 2018 2q FEC by Pat Powers on Scribd

Dusty has managed large donations from people such as Dana Dykhouse, State Representative Arch Beal, former State Senator Eric Bogue, Ethanol mogul Jeff Broin, Paul Christen from Huron, former Governor Frank Farrar, former Lt. Governor under Bill Janklow, Lowell Hanson, Former State Senator Jeff Haverly, Ev Hoyt, retired Board of Regents Member Harvey Jewett, Kelby Krabbenhoft, Al Kurtenbach, State Rep David Lust, former first Lady Pat Miller, State Rep & former Brookings Mayor Tim Reed, Former State Rep Fred Deutsch, State Senator Jeff Partridge, and a pile of other names you might recognize.

How does that stack up against his opponent? I’ll let you know as soon as the Krebs campaign files their report.

Stay tuned.

Deputy AG Charlie McGuigan addresses Brookings Co GOP

Deputy Attorney General Charlie McGuigan was in Brookings this morning to address the GOP, talking about his office, as well as his candidacy for Attorney General in 2018.

McGuigan spoke about how states who have legalized drugs have become a major headache for South Dakota, as they’ve become a significant source of illegal drugs – not just pot, but hard drugs such as meth.

He made his case as a candidate for the GOP’s nomination for AG in that he is the candidate who brings both institutional knowledge of the office, as well as continuity for the AG office, having been with the Attorney General’s since Mark Barnett.

Lots of good discussion on the dark web, and new legislation, as well as other topics.

John Fitzgerald is next candidate (also AG) scheduled to speak to the local GOP group on September 16th, so stay tuned for more on your GOP candidates.

Democrats still unhappy with SDDP’s Ann Tornburg, as she tries to cling to power

The South Dakota Democrat website “Sioux Falls Drinking Liberally” has been a leading critic of Democrat State Party Chair Ann Tornberg, and has chronicled her antics as she’s driven that party further into the ground.

And their latest post is no different, pointing out how Chairman Tornburg tried to encourage secrecy and closed doors when it comes to Democrat party information in the face of dwindling Democrat registration numbers:

In South Dakota: As I mentioned, we attended the SDDP’s Central Committee meeting in Pickstown last Friday. The good news is that Democrats have a candidate for Governor, Billie Sutton from Burke and, as of yesterday, a candidate for our lone US House seat, Judge Tim Bjorkman from Canistota. We wish both of them great success in their campaigns. While he is not as well known, I think Judge Bjorkman is a particularly attractive candidate.

The bad news is that, despite its best efforts, the South Dakota Democratic Party (SDDP) continues down the road to irrelevance. They spent most of their Pickstown meeting debating changes to their Constitution or listening to the Chair, Ann Tornberg, lecture the group on the need to be circumspect about their discussions. Contrary to the SDDP’s Constitution which states explicitly that all meetings of the SDDP are open to the public, Ann seemed to believe that meetings should be closed and plans should be secret. To my mind, secrecy allows people to maintain power without the need to justify it intellectually. Ann’s wish was corrected by others but she continued to insist that she expected Central Committee members to keep what they hear to themselves. So much for democracy.

And… 

It is worth noting that four representatives from the Burke, SD area currently serve on the SDDP’s 24 person Executive Board, but only 2 from the Sioux Falls Metro area, and only three from the Rapid City Metro area.

The rural dominance of the SDDP was clearly in evidence in Pickstown. While the leadership talks a good game, encouraging County parties to register voters, hiring staff with subsidies from the DNC, centralizing the recruitment of legislative candidates (a questionable strategy), and attempting to raise money to compete with Republicans, its lack of success and the continuing decline in Democratic voter registration speaks for itself. 

And…

Some might argue that the SDDP’s Chair, Ann Tornberg, and her staff don’t know what the hell they are doing. Not me. I let the numbers speak for themselves.

Read it all here.

Rounds, Donnelly Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve VA Data Sharing and Combat Opioid Abuse Epidemic

Rounds, Donnelly Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Improve VA Data Sharing and Combat Opioid Abuse Epidemic

The VA Prescription Data Accountability Act would expand the VA’s authority to share prescription drug data with state monitoring programs

WASHINGTON—U.S. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) today announced the introduction of the VA Prescription Data Accountability Act, bipartisan legislation that would clarify current law to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to share data with state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) for patients who are prescribed opioids by VA providers, including both veterans and their dependents. The VA is currently only sharing prescription data on veterans, not their dependents or others treated by VA providers, due to technical issues related to the VA’s health records system. As a result, a significant amount of VA prescription data is not being shared with states’ prescription drug monitoring programs.

“South Dakota is home to approximately 76,000 veterans who have been promised adequate care from the VA,” said Rounds. “Our bill simply updates current law to give the VA authority to securely share patient data with state prescription drug monitoring programs; crucial systems that reinforce safe prescribing practices to cut down on opioid abuse and protect our vets. I look forward to working with Sen. Donnelly to get this straight-forward, bipartisan, cost-effective legislation signed into law.”

The VA Prescription Data Accountability Act is supported by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Association of the United States Navy. Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-2) and Congressman Brad Wenstrup (OH-2) introduced companion bipartisan legislation that passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Congressional Budget Office has scored the House companion as having no added cost to taxpayers.

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Shantel Krebs notes $130k campaign haul to media in Congressional race.

While we don’t have any filings into the FEC just yet, Republican Congressional Candidate Shantel Krebs is reporting to the media that she’s raised $130,000 in the past three months. From KSFY/Associated Press:

Shantel Krebs’ congressional campaign says she raised more than $130,000 in the second quarter of 2017 and ended the period with more than $230,000 in the bank.

Read it here.