According to the Plain Talk's online reader poll this week, the defeat of a proposed state law aimed at overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision was picked as the top local and South Dakota news story of 2006.
Other top stories included Senator Tim Johnson's health, the return of Charlie Battery, ethanol plant locates to Vermillion, Crawford Road vs. Crawford Woods, followed by the University of South Dakota's decision to move to Division I in athletics.
1. South Dakota's abortion ban
The heated debate over abortion rights came to a head in 2006, reaching a new level of intensity that even attracted national attention.
Last winter, the South Dakota Legislature overwhelmingly passed a restrictive abortion ban that included almost no exceptions for the acts of rape, incest or if the mother's life or health were in danger. Several lawmakers admitted the real intent of the law was to take the abortion battle to the Supreme Court and test the new conservative lean of the court.
A petition drive was launched to refer the measure to public vote. Before summer, opponents of the measure, HB1215, had enough signatures to refer the measure to a November vote. Thus, the war began over Referred Law No. 6.
Voters rejected the abortion ban by a decisive 56-44 percent margin.
2. Sen. Johnson hospitalized
On Wednesday, Dec. 13, South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, a Vermillion native, became disoriented during a conference call with reporters, stuttering in response to a question. Afterwards, he walked back to his Capitol office but appeared to not feel well. He was examined by a physician and taken to George Washington University Hospital at midday. Later that day, doctors diagnosed Johnson with an arteriovenous malformation in his brain.
Johnson underwent emergency surgery later that day. The surgery relieved the pressure on his brain. Surgeons said the senator was experiencing post-surgery swelling in his brain but they said that was normal.
The South Dakota Democrat, who turned 60 on Dec. 28, remains in critical condition, but has appeared to improve since the surgery.
3. The return of Charlie Battery
Thunderous applause greeted the Yankton-based "C" Battery 1/147th Field Artillery unit of the South Dakota National Guard when it returned home from Iraq on Sept. 30.
After a parade through Yankton that attracted more than 30,000 people, the 150 members of Charlie Battery, which also included several Vermillion residents, convened at Yankton's Summit Activities Center for a deactivation ceremony. The stage was flanked by shadow boxes representing Charlie Battery's four fallen soldiers: Sgt. 1st Class Richard Schild, Staff Sgt. Daniel Cuka, Sgt. Allen Kokesh, Jr. Staff from a Dec. 4, 2005, roadside bomb and Sgt. Gregory Wagner from a May 8 projectile.
Charlie Battery was awarded 22 Bronze Stars, four with valor; 10 Army Commendations with Valor, 165 regular Army Commendations, 157 Combat Action Badges and 18 Purple Hearts.
4. Ethanol Plant Locates to Vermillion
South Dakota politicians and local community leaders involved in attracting a new ethanol plant to the Vermillion area sank shovels into gold in a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, Nov. 2.
They didn't scoop up ore, however. They tossed into the air freshly picked kernels of corn that earlier that day had been piled into a long row on the USD DakotaDome floor.
The ceremony marked the beginning of a major economic development project in Clay County hailed to have a long-term positive effect for citizens who make their living by growing corn and feeding livestock.
Tom Branhan, CEO of Glacial Lakes Energy, said, "We plan to start this plant up before the end of 2007, which is a phenomenal feat. We will make every effort we can to do it."
Gov. Rounds said that by the end of 2008, South Dakota will be producing more than 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol annually.
5. Regents O.K. USD's D-1 decision
Good-bye, NCAA Division II, charter membership in the North Central Conference and decades of tradition. Hello, NCAA Division I and the uncharted waters of a new future.
The University of South Dakota is officially set to join the major-college ranks, thanks to the South Dakota Board of Regents' unanimous approval of USD's request to reclassify its athletic programs. USD will move to Division I-AA for football and Division I for all other sports.
The regents' 9-0 vote allows USD to enter an exploratory year in 2007-08. The transition year allows the university to address alumni and fan support, conference affiliation and funding, said USD President Jim Abbott.
Currently, USD sponsors 17 intercollegiate varsity sports with more than 350 student athletes. USD will formally submit notification to the NCC and NCAA in the near future.
6. Crawford Overcomes Roadblock
While the nation may have waiting to see South Dakota's voters' decision on a proposed abortion ban, Vermillion residents also paid close attention to the ballot battle over the best to connect Crawford Road with Burbank Road.
At issue was whether to connect the two roads with a street or a bike path/nature preserve.
Vermillion voters decided a road would best serve the city's future needs.
Ballot tallies were so close that the clear-cut winner didn't emerge until the final city ward, including absentee ballots, were counted.