South Dakota Editorial Roundup

Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

The Associated Press

Capital Journal, Pierre, June 11, 2013

Brouhaha over petitions is drowning out merits of Riverwalk project

Less than a week after the Fort Pierre City Council passed a resolution explaining the technical grounds of why it did not intend to honor a second set of petitions referring the Riverwalk Landing project to a public vote, it is looking at a third set of petitions, re-worded to avoid a legal technicality the city raised. One of the arguments the city had made is that the petitions could have been interpreted as including more than just its Riverwalk Landing actions.

Frankly, that looked to us a bit like an effort to outfox the people who signed the petitions, and the city should have known better than to think that would be the end of the petition drive. Dave Braun, the Pierre/Fort Pierre referendum king, simply went back and gathered more signatures on a more carefully worded set of petitions. So now it is back in the city’s hands.

Will the petitioners get to vote on what they want? There already is a vote set for July 9 on one of the city’s actions – its approval earlier of an ordinance on conditional use permits that include such uses as boat sales, service and storage. But more issues on the ballot would make it even more likely that certain aspects of the project could be voted down.

As we have said before, it would seem to us short-sighted if the voters were to go down that path. We’re not wild about the way the city has handled its end of this process, but we like this project. The community of Pierre/Fort Pierre needs something like this, and Fort Pierre is where it would fit best. And despite the opposition, we continue to think it would be good for business throughout the city.

One thing seems clear: No matter what happens next, the issue at this point has become a fight between the city and a business owner and her allies. That’s unfortunate because the wee small voices that have something to say about the merits of the project are worth hearing.

Yet all this noise about process is drowning out that discussion. The marina and its accompanying developments on the Missouri River would draw destination traffic to the city and help showcase the quality of life we have here.

Keep that in mind on your way to the ballot box.

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, June 8, 2013

State must protect insurance consumers

When consumers pay premiums for insurance coverage, they expect benefits to be there when they need them.

It’s true for auto insurance, home coverage and long-term care policies. If coverage is ever denied unjustly, state insurance regulators should be there to back up consumers.

That’s undoubtedly what customers of Ability Insurance Co., a long-term care insurance provider thought when they were told the company wouldn’t help pay for assisted living or nursing home care when they no longer could live on their own.

But evidence strongly suggests the state of South Dakota’s regulators didn’t regulate anything, rather favoring the insurers over the citizens of this state.

Nationally, about a dozen consumers filed lawsuits against Ability, most of them from South Dakota. In situations involving long-term care coverage, time typically isn’t on the customer’s side. There might not be years and years left to fight with a company’s decision.

After three years and even though the South Dakota Division of Insurance found enough evidence that Ability allegedly violated state laws and regulations, no public action has been taken against the company, even though the state has had plenty of time to do so.

That leads to the question of whether the insurance division is consumer-friendly, favors the interest of insurers or lacks enough resources to be prompt and effective.

South Dakota regulations differ from those in other states. Here, all it takes to meet the requirement that long-term care is appropriate is a doctor to say that it is medically necessary. It’s a regulation that has been around since 1990 and benefits the consumer.

That regulation should protect people seeking care outside of their homes, but the state hasn’t been able to put the teeth into that requirement.

An Argus Leader investigation resulted in stories about families who were denied care by Ability and the lack of response from the state to take public action. In the aftermath, Gov. Dennis Daugaard has called on the secretary of Labor and Regulation to review the Division of Insurance’s procedures and practices for investigating consumer insurance complaints. We hope to see follow-up on behalf of consumers.

The Division of Insurance, while a small group of state employees, absolutely needs to be more protective of consumers in a substantive and timely way. When insurance disputes come up, it should not mean that families have to take the case to court to get an injustice corrected. That’s what the state is for, to stick up for citizens as consumer advocates when clearly they are being cheated.

The state failed in these cases, as did Ability, and there are potentially thousands of other consumers in South Dakota who haven’t even asked to start using benefits. If our insurance division can’t protect them, then we as a state need to figure out how our system can be improved so that it can do its job.

Our state standards in many aspects need to be more consumer-friendly and protective. In this case, our law gives us a more-powerful position to work for elderly needing care. We need to use that ability to require that companies follow the rules and give consumers the benefits they have paid for and deserve.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, June 11, 2013

Recall fails, issue remains

Congratulations to Mayor Sam Kooiker, who won re-election as Rapid City’s mayor. Kudos as well to those who were re-elected or elected for the first time to the Rapid City Council.

Before them is the sometimes difficult task of making decisions on the issues facing Rapid City for the next two years. The voters have spoken, and now it’s back to work.

The outcome of Rapid City’s municipal election wasn’t the only news about city government recently. A petition drive to force a recall elect of Ward 1 Alderman Bill Clayton met the required number of signatures for a recall, but about one-third of the signatures were invalidated on a legal technicality. Two of the people gathering petition signatures are Montana residents and state law requires that only state residents can collect signatures on petitions.

The disqualification of the signatures needed for a recall election was a disappointment to former city council member Gary Brown, who said he was unlikely to re-start the petition drive.

Clayton has been under fire after he made racially insensitive remarks to a TV reporter last year when he suggested that she and President Obama go back to Kenya. Clayton has said he apologized to the reporter, but then in almost the same breath said he didn’t know she was black and that reporters don’t accurately report the truth. That’s an apology?

Little wonder that so many Rapid City residents signed the petition for a recall election. A little more than 10,000 people voted in Tuesday’s election and more than 7,000 people signed the petition to oust Clayton. Despite the invalidation of many signatures due to a technicality, many Rapid City residents don’t want him on the city council.

One of the strengths of our representative democracy is that it is easier to get on the ballot than to remove an elected official from office. It takes a serious case of misconduct to get rid of someone once they’re in. In Clayton’s case, the bar for a recall election was easily cleared if not for the legal slip.

If it’s any consolation, Clayton has one year to redeem himself or face the ire of his constituents, who are unlikely to forget so soon why they signed the recall petition.

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