Letters Engbrecht reviews legislative issues

To the editor:

January 11 is the first day of the annual legislative session. As usual many problems will be facing the Legislature. One of the most publicized is the juvenile detention system, particularly at the facility in Plankinton. My hope is, if legislation is introduced to change the alleged administrative errors at the juvenile correction centers, that it be done fairly and not as a political ploy. The Legislature should not use juveniles as political pawns.

It was my privilege to serve on the Interim Tax Committee this past summer. One of the proposals coming out of this committee recommends the way agriculture land is valued. A bill will be introduced valuing agricultural land according to its capability to produce, not by sales ratio. Land values in the Black Hills have sky-rocketed. Land with a productivity capability of $250 per acre is bringing 10 times the amount. We also see agricultural land in eastern South Dakota bring in the $2,000 range. It will take much study and many hearings before this concept is passed by the Legislature. There would be a pilot program used in seven counties before this concept is used statewide. I would appreciate your comments. Also, a bill is being brought forward giving the small businesses a break on real estate taxes. This concept is coming from the Rapid City area.

In the governor's budget address, much criticism was leveled at schools for the amount of cash in their fund balances. It appears certain that this will get a lot of attention in the upcoming session. I believe this is a local issue and each district should deal with it. If the local people think there is too great a fund balance, they will let the school officials know. This is local control.

On Dec. 20, 1999, the governor called a meeting in Sioux Falls dealing with highway safety. The meeting was particularly focused on juveniles, seat belts and alcohol consumption when driving. A bill will be brought on behalf of the governor advocating that children from the ages of five up to 18 must wear a seat belt while riding in either the front or back seat of a vehicle. I have not seen a draft of the bill. There also were presenters at the meeting advocating that the alcohol blood level be lowered from 0.1 to 0.08 toleration. There is a nationwide movement in this direction. I believe that at the present I would support such legislation.

In the past, tuition rates that are paid by out-of-state students at the state supported universities in South Dakota were increased significantly. This has caused a significant drop in enrollment at USD and SDSU. Somehow this trend must be reversed. If possible, there should not be partially-filled class and dorm rooms when there are students within 100 miles who would fill them if the tuition rates were competitive. We must find a solution to this.

Please call me with your legislative concerns. All legislators need grass root input if they are to do a good job. The telephone number of the South Dakota House lobby is 605-773-3851. Please call, leave a message and I will return your call. My home number is 605-648-3635.

H. Junior Engbrecht

Representative District 17

Letter was like sweet breath of air

Editor's note: Michelle Patzlaff of Vermillion received this reply to a holiday letter she wrote to members of the U.S. military as part of Operation Christmas Card. Besides members of the Patzlaff family, employees of Polaris participated in the letter writing project. People from Vermillion sent 713 letters to men and women in the Armed Forces. Residents of communities from other states also participated, sending 2,700 holiday greetings.

Dear Ms. Patzlaff:

Merry Christmas from the 557th Ambulance Company deployed in Kosovo. I received your letter today (Dec. 13) and was very touched by your sentiment and caring. My entire platoon consisting of 20 people read your letter. It changed our outlook and brightened our day.

I am an ambulance platoon leader in charge of 10 ambulances and 20 soldiers. We transport all soldiers within the peacekeeping service in Kosovo to the Combat Surgical Hospital. This includes a wide variety of American, Polish, German, Russian, Sweden and other European soldiers. We also evacuate civilian Albanians in Kosovo that are injured and need immediate medical care.

This deployment has been very difficult for us. Our job is to transport casualties to the hospital so we see every injury that occurs. Many of them are due to mine fields outside the region of our camp. Yesterday we brought in two Polish soldiers that stepped on a mine. One of them was 18 years old and had his entire hand and leg blown off. My soldiers gave him first aid care but what was so tragic was looking in his eyes and hearing his cries. We will never forget the incident. Of course this is one of many tragedies we have seen. It is so difficult to handle situations like this and every soldier killed takes a part of you. I suppose we realize that this could be us laying there in pain taking our last breath.

This holiday time period is very difficult for my soldiers. Many of them are 18 years old and have been in the Army less than six months. Most have not received any mail or packages since they have been out here, which is very difficult. I find now most of the soldiers come to the military for a various amount of reasons but their family structure is not very stable (dysfunctional families, orphans. etc.). Basically they come to make a new start in life. But the truth is we have no one but ourselves, our platoon is our family.

I find by being here and traveling through the towns with burned buildings and seeing Albanian children waving you realize how precious life is. Often times me and my soldiers sit down and talk about the situation we are in and how one day we will be back in the states enjoying life, having a family, and enjoying the sun set in our back yard. It is sad but this is all we have to hold on to.

Your letter is like a sweet breath of air. You are like a sweet angel during our most difficult time in our lives. I appreciate your letter and further correspondence to us if you wish. If possible I would like for you to encourage others to write to my platoon. You would not believe how much hope this would bring us.

I was thinking of writing a newspaper but I do not know where or whom to write to. I was hoping that maybe your hometown would adopt us if it is possible. Maybe you can print our letter in your local newspaper.

Happy Holidays from the soldiers of the 557th Ambulance Company deployed in Kosovo. Thank you again for caring about us while we are deployed in Kosovo.

Geraldine Lubkeman

First Lieutenant/ Ambulance Platoon Leader

Department of the Army Task Force Med Falcon Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo

APO AE 09340

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