US Senator John Thune’s Weekly Update: Putting an End to Sanctuary Cities

thuneheadernew John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressPutting an End to Sanctuary Cities
By Sen. John Thune

Earlier this week, Senate Democrats blocked the Senate from considering a bill that would have responded to serious crimes being committed by undocumented immigrants within the United States. The Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act would have penalized sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States by withholding certain federal funds, beefing up our current re-entry laws, and protecting local law enforcement officers who comply with federal immigration orders. But Senate Democrats said “no” to that common-sense approach.

Right now, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 340 jurisdictions across our country have official policies discouraging cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officers. Among other things, that means that these jurisdictions regularly ignore what are called detainers – requests from DHS to hold an individual for deportation, usually for 48 hours. While a majority of cities require law enforcement officials to comply with these requests, officials in sanctuary cities regularly ignore them. As a result, approximately 1,000 undocumented criminals are released each month.

There is a terrible human cost to sanctuary cities’ decision to refuse to cooperate with U.S. immigration law. Kate Steinle, for one, paid that cost when she was murdered on a San Francisco pier while walking with her father on July 1, 2015. She was shot by an undocumented immigrant who had been convicted of no fewer than seven felonies prior to the city of San Francisco’s decision to ignore a DHS request and release this man into the population. And Kate Steinle is not alone. Unfortunately, too many similar events have occurred throughout the country.

The Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act, which has strong support from law enforcement organizations and victims’ families, would withhold federal funds under three grant programs and redirect those funds to jurisdictions that comply with federal immigration laws. It would also provide crucial legal protections to law enforcement officers that would allow them to cooperate with federal immigration authorities without fear of lawsuits, and it incorporates provisions of Kate’s Law – named after Kate Steinle – which would increase the maximum penalty for illegally re-entering the United States after being deported.

What happened to Kate Steinle on that pier in San Francisco should never have happened, and it likely could have been prevented if San Francisco had chosen to respect DHS’ request to hold her killer until immigration officers could pick him up. I hope that the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act will eventually move forward in the Senate and that we will be able to send a version of this legislation to the president. It’s past time to start ensuring that dangerous criminals like Kate Steinle’s killer don’t end up back on our streets.

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US Senator Mike Rounds’ Weekly Column: EPA’s Faulty Analysis

RoundsPressHeader MikeRounds official SenateEPA’s Faulty Analysis
By Senator Mike Rounds
October 23, 2015

South Dakotans continue to suffer from overreaching, misguided rules being promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since President Obama took office, the EPA has issued more than 3,300 new final regulations, averaging more than one a day. Last year alone, these rules resulted in an estimated $42 billion in compliance costs, and the public has been forced to foot the bill. These additional costs have led to greater uncertainty for job creators and Ag producers, hindering economic growth across the nation.

We all want clean air and water, but we cannot let American families suffer and our economy falter as a result of EPA’s misguided attempts to overregulate natural resources and landowners’ ability to manage their land. That is why it is so important for the EPA to conduct scientific, factual and comprehensive analysis of the rules they are promulgating before they become final. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that too often, the EPA is using incomplete, inaccurate and faulty data when analyzing the economic impact its rules will have on citizens and businesses.  As a result, the EPA is imposing costly, burdensome regulations on American families and businesses with little environmental benefit.

As Chairman of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight, I recently held a hearing to address these reports. The goal of the hearing, entitled Oversight of Regulatory Impact Analyses for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regulations, was to analyze the process by which the EPA conducts Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) on the new regulations it imposes on the American people.

Much has been said about the harmful effects of many of EPA’s new regulations, including President Obama’s ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule and the so-called Clean Power Plan. This hearing examined how the agency writes these rules in the first place. By examining the EPA’s rulemaking process as a whole, we found fundamental flaws in the way the agency arrives at many of its conclusions when writing its rules and regulations.

We learned how the EPA fails to clearly and accurately quantify the costs and benefits of the regulations they are imposing. Even more troubling, the public, American businesses and state and local governments are prevented from understanding the real impact of the regulation and meaningfully participating in the rulemaking process. Instead, these sweeping regulatory decisions at EPA are being made by Washington bureaucrats with no knowledge of how they are affecting people on the ground. Meanwhile, American families pay the cost of these regulations through higher electricity costs, fewer job opportunities and a sluggish economy.

I thank my colleagues who participated in the hearing, as well as the witnesses for their informed analysis. The Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight will continue to oversee the rules being promulgated at the EPA. While this hearing was productive, it is clear that more must be done to overhaul the rulemaking process at an agency run amuck.

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Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Knowledge Changes Outcomes

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Knowledge Changes Outcomes
By Rep. Kristi Noem
October 23, 2015

This year, nearly a quarter-million women will learn they have breast cancer.  As a result of earlier detection through screenings and awareness as well as advances in treatment options, the vast majority of these women will earn the title of “Survivor.”

In August, I had the opportunity to visit one of the medical centers working to combat this disease in South Dakota.  While there, I spoke with the doctors and nurses about all the ways they are getting information to patients quickly and accurately and how it can help throughout the treatment journey.  New technologies make this kind of information possible and obtainable.

For instance, the medical center I visited uses 3-D mammograms, which provide hundreds of pictures whereas standard mammograms produce just a handful.  As a result, the technology can find “slightly more cancers than standard digital mammograms and … result in 15% fewer false alarms – women called back for more tests and then found not to have cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.  The improved level of accuracy is important.

The 3-D mammograms are one in a series of technological and scientific improvements that have resulted in better care and higher rates of survival.  The National Institute of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Health has played a critical role in much of this research and I was proud to lead more than 80 female members of the U.S. House of Representatives in commemorating this agency’s 25th anniversary earlier this year.

Some of the nation’s first female members of Congress advocated for this office to be established as a way to provide more insight into how diseases and medicines work within a woman’s body.  As a result of the research it’s conducted and supported, we’ve taken tremendous steps toward finding a cure for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and much more.  It’s saved the lives of countless women and I’m hopeful it will continue to produce positive results long into the future.

With a better understanding of the disease, we can each have a better understanding of how to detect – and even prevent – cancer.  As we come to the close of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to share a few of those tips with you.  First, I encourage you to schedule regular screenings.

Be aware of your family history.  If your mother or your sister has had breast cancer, you are twice as likely to develop it.

Take steps to improve your overall health, because staying active and maintaining a healthy weight can make you less susceptible to breast cancer.

Finally, know what to look for.  Lumps, redness, and swelling can all be indications, but don’t wait until you see something to schedule your screening.

I encourage you to take a few minutes this month to learn more about the disease and your family’s history with it.  Has breast cancer impacted your mother, an aunt or one of your sisters?  Have you spoken to your doctor about getting a screening?  Are there ways you can improve your overall health?  Take just one step today; it could make the difference.

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Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: Criminal Justice Reform Update

daugaardheader DaugaardCriminal Justice Reform Update
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

Several years ago, I became aware of a problem with our state’s criminal justice system. South Dakota’s imprisonment rate was higher than any of our six neighboring states. Per capita, we were locking up 75 percent more men than North Dakota and four times as many women as Minnesota. Worst of all, our high imprisonment rate wasn’t making our public any safer. Our crime rate was falling, but not as fast as in other states. Continuing to follow our same path would force us to build a new women’s prison and a new men’s prison within 10 years.

To address the problem, the Chief Justice, legislative leadership and I formed a work group. We charged the work group with three goals: improve public safety, hold offenders more accountable and reduce corrections spending. The workgroup’s recommendations were incorporated into comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation that passed with bipartisan support.

To focus prison space on violent and career criminals, the reforms restructured our sentencing framework for non-violent offenders. We included new and improved probation accountability programs like drug and alcohol courts. We also made the largest investment in the history of our state into behavioral health for offenders with addictions and mental health needs.

Although it’s only been two and a half years since the Public Safety Improvement Act passed, we’re already seeing positive results. The prison population is now below initial projections. Thanks to the reforms, we will not need to build a new women’s prison this year. That alone will save us $36 million this year. By avoiding construction of new women’s and men’s prisons, and avoiding the costs of operating them, South Dakota should save over $100 million in correctional costs this decade.

I knew these reforms would be good for South Dakota’s bottom line. Happily, these reforms are also proving beneficial in other ways.

Most offenders who are released from prison continue to be supervised in the community for a period of time as parolees. Under the new law, parolees can reduce the duration of their parole by 30 days each time they complete 30 days of perfect behavior. Thus far, under this policy, over 700,000 days of parole credit have been earned. That’s almost 2,000 years-worth of parole credit earned to date. This allows parole officers to reduce the time they spend supervising those with good behavior, and focus instead on parolees who need more close supervision.

We’re not only locking fewer people up, we’re seeing a reduction in crime. According to the most recent crime reports from the FBI and the state Attorney General’s Office, South Dakota’s crime rate decreased from 2013 to 2014. Though we can’t definitively attribute the reduction in crime to the Public Safety Improvement Act, it’s certainly a positive sign to celebrate.

I know it’s still too early to declare victory. Experts tell us it will take three to five years to see all the results of our combined efforts. But based on the early data we’ve received, I am hopeful the reforms will save us more money, hold offenders more accountable and make our state a safer place.

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Thune Requests Update on IHS Effort to Modernize Purchased and Referred Care Program

thuneheadernew John_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressThune Requests Update on IHS Effort to Modernize Purchased and Referred Care Program

“By bringing payments under the IHS PRC program in line with other federal health care programs, we will be able to stretch limited dollars and expand access to care in Indian Country.”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today requested an update from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on a pending Indian Health Services (IHS) regulation that would extend access to IHS contract care. The pending regulation would expand Medicare-like rate payment methodologies to all health care services contracted under the Purchased and Referred Care (PRC) program, bringing uniformity to reimbursement rates for contract health care services and establishing reimbursement levels that are in line with services like Medicare, Tricare, and VA benefits. First proposed in late 2014, this regulation has yet to be finalized.

“While the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which I supported, made needed reforms to health care in Indian Country, considerable work remains to ensure that IHS patients have access to the health care they need,” said Thune. “By bringing payments under the IHS PRC program in line with other federal health care programs, we will be able to stretch limited dollars and expand access to care in Indian Country. The PRC program is not meeting the needs of tribal citizens or being accountable to providers outside the IHS system. I look forward to working with tribes, providers, and the IHS on workable and common-sense solutions to modernize Purchased and Referred Care and ultimately improve the quality of this important program.”

Physicians and other non-hospital providers currently contracting with IHS through the PRC program are often paid at different rates than what is paid for identical services that are provided under Medicare, Tricare, or VA benefits.

In response to ongoing concerns from private health care providers in South Dakota that contract with IHS, Thune’s letter also requests information on IHS efforts to improve its claims administration process. The request is a follow-up to a 2014 staff-led working group that Thune convened, which included private providers, IHS, and tribal stakeholders, during which the claims administration process under the PRC program was discussed.

Full text of the letter can be found below:

The Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Secretary
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Burwell:

I write today regarding an ongoing rulemaking at the Indian Health Service (IHS) with respect to Medicare-like rate (MLR) payment methodologies in the Purchased and Referred Care (PRC) program, formerly Contract Health Service.

As you know, current law requires only Medicare participating hospitals to accept MLR for services contracted by the IHS.  While in some cases IHS or tribes have negotiated lower rates, the current regulatory structure has led IHS to pay for physician and other non-hospital services at billed charges – often much higher than rates paid by insurers and other federal health care programs.  Pursuant to the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, in 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its findings on this issue.  The GAO recommended Congress consider capping rates in this  program, which could save the IHS PRC program millions of dollars annually and ultimately expand patient care.

While Congress has not yet acted, in December 2014, the IHS published a notice of proposed rulemaking to expand the MLR to all health care services contracted under the PRC program.  In the course of the rulemaking process, a number of issues were raised by stakeholders and I am hopeful the final rule will reflect a consideration of many of these concerns and ideas.  I was pleased to see that the rule noted that access to care should not be negatively impacted as this regulatory change moves forward.  As almost a year has passed, I am interested in learning where you and the department are in the rulemaking process and when you expect this rule to be finalized and published.

As you make changes to reimbursement, it is imperative that improvements in IHS program administration follow.  Providers continue to express frustration with claims administration in the PRC program.  While a MLR may be appropriate, providers should also expect timely payment and a modernized claims process.  In working with tribes, private providers, and the fiscal intermediary, efficiencies in the existing process must be developed.  Last fall, my office gathered stakeholders from IHS, private providers, and tribal health care officials to initiate a dialogue on this issue.  Since that time, discussions have continued, but unfortunately, problems remain.  I would like an update from you on the continuing involvement of IHS staff in the Great Plains Area and headquarters office to identify efficiencies and continue these discussions in South Dakota and across the country.

I support your policy goal to bring IHS reimbursement in line with other federal programs and expand services.  At the same time, claims administration must be improved.  I urge you to advance this rulemaking and other associated changes that will ensure patients receive needed care while providers are reimbursed in a timely, efficient manner.  I have been exploring these issues over the last several years and I welcome the opportunity to work with you to advance these policy goals.  I look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely,

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Thune Statement on Bill to Stop Sanctuary Cities

thuneheadernewJohn_Thune,_official_portrait,_111th_CongressThune Statement on Bill to Stop Sanctuary Cities  
“Sanctuary policies have allowed thousands of dangerous criminals to return to our nation’s streets, and too many American families have paid a terrible price as a result.”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today released the following statement after Senate Democrats blocked a bill that would protect families and communities from the dangers posed by sanctuary cities, which harbor criminals who are in this country illegally.

“Sanctuary policies have allowed thousands of dangerous criminals to return to our nation’s streets, and too many American families have paid a terrible price as a result. Yet despite the dangers posed by these policies, Senate Democrats are refusing to even debate this legislation.

“By blocking the bill, Senate Democrats are once again employing their favorite strategy of obstruction. In recent weeks, Democrats have opposed funding for our troops and our veterans, and now they are blocking common-sense legislation that is widely supported by the law enforcement community.”

Currently, there are 340 jurisdictions across the country that have official policies discouraging cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officers, resulting in the release of approximately 1,000 criminal aliens per month.

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Daugaard: Open SD Receives Facelift

daugaardheader DaugaardOpen SD Receives Facelift

PIERRE, S.D. – The Bureau of Finance and Management has redesigned state government’s transparency website, Open.SD.gov, to make financial data more accessible.

Open SD was created in 2008 to provide public access to state financial data and new functionalities have been added over the past seven years. The website is updated daily with information from the state’s central financial systems. Searches for vendor payments, employee salaries and state government contracts are among the most utilized features of the website. The site also provides access to detailed budget information, tax expenditures, financial publications and other open government resources.

The Bureau expects the reorganization will simplify its ability to incorporate other functionalities in the future. In addition to making cosmetic changes to Open SD, the Bureau has reorganized the navigation menu and made the site mobile-friendly. The new site also links to commonly-accessed public information, such as the Boards and Commissions portal and the state statutes and rules websites.

In 2014, the US Public Interest Research Group named Open SD the eighth most improved state government transparency website in the nation and designated South Dakota as the top “Advancing State” for transparency. Since 2011 the South Dakota has improved its US PIRG rating from a D+ to an A-.

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