South Dakota Editorial Roundup

South Dakota Editorial Roundup

Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

The Associated Press

Capital Journal, Pierre, Sept. 20, 2013

Daugaard sets the right tone in responding to request for DUI reform

Gov. Dennis Daugaard is striking exactly the right note — respectful, interested, but not hasty to promise anything — in responding to a grieving father’s request for DUI reform.

It’s more fallout from the July 8 traffic accident that killed two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers in Pickstown. Robert Klumb, 46, of Pierre and Maegan Spindler, 25, of Cazenovia, NY — also a Pierre resident at the time of the accident — were struck and killed by an out-of-control driver who was allegedly driving while intoxicated.

We fully understand that the parents of Maegan Spindler don’t want their daughter to have died in vain. It’s clear the governor understands that, too.

We appreciate the way Gov. Daugaard has responded to the Spindlers, making it clear that he and his staff take seriously the Spindlers’ 13-point proposal for making South Dakota a “Best in Class” model for DUI enforcement.

And frankly, there are some interesting ideas here. Why shouldn’t first- and second-offense DUIs be treated as felonies rather than misdemeanors? What is so unlucky about the third time? Is it only on the third time that some idiot with too much to drink and a thousand pounds of steel around him actually endangers someone out there on the road with that blunt object he’s driving? The laws of physics say a drunk is a danger anytime he gets behind the wheel, regardless of whether or not he’s done it before.

We need to talk about ideas like this.

We also need to talk about a key part of the Spindlers’ proposal, that idea of a permanent, explicitly dedicated excise tax of 10 percent on the wholesale cost of all alcoholic beverages sold in South Dakota in order to supplement current DUI enforcement efforts.

If there is a lack of consensus for enacting a new tax, the Spindlers propose that the governor abolish one or more unpopular taxes affecting families or business development which currently go into the general fund in order to offset the proposed dedicated alcohol excise tax.

And here is where the governor and his staff, and perhaps lawmakers, need to think carefully, if this proposal ever goes anywhere.

We have nothing in particular against a tax that would pay for stricter alcohol enforcement. Taxing the stuff that costs the society money is not a bad idea. It’s a voluntary tax, after all; you would pay according to how much you choose to drink. But the fact is, there are plenty of ways that alcohol costs the state and its taxpayers money. In fact law enforcement costs could be, for all we know, one of the lesser costs. What about alcohol-related health care costs? Go online and you can easily find a dozen diseases or health conditions made worse by alcohol.

If we are going to seriously discuss an added excise tax on alcohol — and we’re not sure that’s going to happen — then let’s see the numbers on what a tax would generate, and what our alcohol-related costs are, before we decide how to spend it.

___

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Sept. 14, 2013

Mixed martial arts deserves a chance in S.D.

Not so long ago, the notion of a mixed martial arts event summoned up images of caged rings occupied by bloodied and bruised fighters staggering from repeated blows while an audience of rowdy patrons watched.

A stigma has followed the sport in South Dakota and has made staging events here difficult. In recent years, tragedies solidified the sport’s cloudy image: A man trained in MMA was charged with murder after a street fight in Watertown and a fighter died in Rapid City after an MMA event.

Sioux Falls prohibits the staging of MMA fights in city-owned buildings. MMA events are banned in Watertown, and other communities have considered similar actions.

All of this means that for years, MMA activity has been driven largely underground in South Dakota.

But much has changed in the past decade. MMA, as a legitimate, competitive sport, has matured and grown. Across the country, bouts draw large audiences, and the number of competitors continues to grow.

That’s the MMA world we now find ourselves in. And it’s one that Sioux Falls and other South Dakota communities should feel more comfortable embracing.

The state Legislature took the right steps this past session in approving plans for a regulatory fighting commission in South Dakota, one of the last states in the country to sanction MMA. Gov. Daugaard, who initially opposed moves to sanction the sport, changed his position after that legislative action and signed into law the South Dakota Athletic Commission, charged with improving safety and setting regulations for promoters of MMA events in the state. The commission will deal with concerns such as licensing, medical exams and drug testing.

We applaud the state for moving forward and setting up a framework to allow South Dakota fighters to compete. It is now time Sioux Falls modifies its restrictions on the sport as well by removing the ban on MMA events staged at public buildings.

In recent years, Sioux Falls’ profile in the MMA arena has grown, despite the restrictions on events. Several local fighters train in the city and have started to gain recognition on a national stage. And Sanford Health has started to work in the MMA arena as well, winning approval to train and treat fighters in the UFC, the primary league in MMA.

Daugaard capitalized on the growing local influence and expertise in this sport when he appointed members to the new athletic commission. He named two doctors, an event promoter, a lawyer and a former fighter to the state board that will write regulations and oversee the sanctioning of MMA events in the state.

It is a good mix of members with knowledge bases ranging from athletic conditioning and preparation to competitive concerns and event accountability. State residents should feel comfortable with their oversight.

The MMA activities being staged in cities across the country draw visitors and boost the local economy. Sioux Falls should be able to compete for the events with Fargo, Sioux City and other area cities.

The evolution of MMA has taken some time, but the sport has emerged from the bar parking lot brawls of a decade ago.

It’s time for Sioux Falls to allow MMA leagues to showcase these athletes in the city’s prime venues.

___

The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Sept. 25, 2013

Don’t discount pheasant season before it’s hatched

We are disheartened to hear hunters are canceling their reservations in Mitchell hotels in response to bad news from the state Department of Game, Fish and Parks.

The GF&P recently released the results from its annual summer brood counts, and it’s not good. The agency says that according to its numbers, the pheasant population may be down as much as 64 percent from last year’s estimated population of 7.6 million.

Really, the GF&P can’t win. In the past, the agency has been accused of fluffing the numbers as a way of promoting South Dakota tourism during an otherwise bland time of year. Now, the GF&P predictions are notably somber. Our suspicion is that South Dakota business owners and tourism officials are disappointed that such dire numbers were made public. Again, the GF&P can’t win.

So during this time of uncertainty, we commend the GF&P for the work it does and the statistics it releases. No doubt, it’s usually a touchy subject.

It takes nerve to release statistics that undoubtedly create controversy. Trust us, sometimes it’s easiest to just shoot the messenger.

Time will tell how the pheasant population will size up this year. Time also will tell if the decline is a result of cyclic weather patterns and bad luck, or if it’s related to declining habitat spurred by America’s love affair with corn and the subsidies associated with it. Most likely, it’s a combination of both.

While we await the final verdict, we offer a few optimistic thoughts:

— Three million pheasants — our rough estimate based on a decline of 64 percent from last year’s population — is still a lot of birds. As recently as 1997, the population fell to 3.6 million, yet the harvest was more than 920,000.

— We suspect that hunting will still have some decent pockets, and especially at lodges and preserves — places that specifically plan for habitat and pheasant growth.

— If hunters do indeed cancel their reservations, there will be more birds for the hunters who remain. Anyone who remembers tramping through the brush in the 1980s — when the pheasant population was only around 2 million — readily understands that South Dakota still will have a very huntable number of pheasants within our borders.

— The pheasant population in Iowa — one of our state’s biggest pheasant competitors — also dropped. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported a 19 percent decline in pheasant brood counts this summer. Here in South Dakota, the GF&P statistics account for average pheasants per mile, which this year is 1.5 statewide. In Iowa, the DNR statistics account for the average number of pheasants on a 30-mile route. This year, that number was 6.5 statewide, or less than a quarter of a bird every mile.

— Perhaps some meteorological phenomenon skewed the numbers. Did our late spring somehow affect the timing of the hatch, which meant fewer birds were visible along the roads on those August mornings during the survey?

In the end, we hope hunters still come in droves because it’s possible the hunt won’t be as bad in the field as it is on paper.

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