After hearing numerous supporters doggedly avoid stating the real anti-LGBT intent of SB 149, Libby Skarin, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, intelligently explained how SB 149 uses “broad and sweeping language” to “allow religion to be used to discriminate against loving, qualified parents who wish to open their homes to kids without them” (start listening at 79:20 of the SDPB audio). She said SB 149 would allow any child placement agency (not just faith-based or entirely private agencies—read the definition!) to turn away prospective parents based on “explicitly religious criteria” excluding “not only same-sex couples, but also people who have a different religion [from] the agency, single parents, interfaith couples… families that don’t attend church weekly, servicemembers or gun owners… based on the agency’s moral conviction regarding pacifism, all while children in need of homes languish in foster care and await permanent families. This bill even authorizes agencies to deny a child placement with a close relative and instead place that child with strangers if that relative is of the wrong religion….”
As the smartest, clearest speaker in the room Wednesday, Libby Skarin also pronounced her name clearly at the beginning of her testimony: the last name is /skreen/.
Demonstrating at the very least that they weren’t listening closely to testimony, Senator Neal Tapio and Senator Phil Jensen both mispronounced Skarin’s name (Tapio: /SKAR-kin/; Jensen: /ka-RIN, KA-rin/).
Senator Tapio asked Skarin (104:08) if an adoption agency can discriminate against prospective parents with a religious belief in female genital mutilation. Senator Jensen asked Skarin if a known pedophile should be allowed to adopt a child. Skarin said neither such placement would be in the best interest of the child. Senator Jensen said such denial is a “judgment call.” Yet both Senators miss a crucial point: the behaviors they describe are felonies under state law (female genital mutilation: SDCL 28-18-37; pedophilia, Chapter 22-22). Tapio and Jensen are equating felony behavior with behaviors the state cannot punish, like not going to a certain church or any church or not being married to a person of the opposite sex.
In other words, Tapio and Jensen are saying that if you don’t fly right with their church, you might as well be a criminal.
SB 149 passed committee 5–2 (thank you, Chair Deb Soholt, for joining Senator Kevin Killer in voting nay). On the floor Thursday, Senator Billie Sutton invoked Rule 5-17, delaying consideration of SB 149 until this Wednesday, February 22, which gives decent folks plenty of time to e-mail Tapio and Jensen to misspell their names, then contact other, more sensible legislators and get them to vote no on this attempt to wedge Sharia for Jesus into our adoption laws.
Muhammad Ali died last night. The greatest 20th-century fighter, an athlete in a sport that most directly celebrates our lust for war, was a year and change younger than my dad, who volunteered to run heavy equipment in the Army in France before Vietnam got hot and before Ali refused to be drafted in 1967.
New York Times reporter Bob Lipsyte calls Ali “an amazing window on a historical period” of American history, the social awakening and upheaval surrounding the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.
In his new book (full review coming later this month), former Senator Larry Pressler calls Vietnam his generation’s big problem, an event that “created a fracture in the American psyche that has never healed.”
Let’s compare Jensen’s reason for preferring not to go to war with Ali’s:
My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father… Shoot them for what? I gotta go shoot them, them poor little black people and little babies and children and women? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail [Muhammad Ali, interview].
So said Muhammad Ali, who threw his fists and knocked men down for—for what? money? fame? pride?—but who would not shoot and kill for empire. Ali argued less politically to the court that as a Muslim, he could not fight in an infidel war. The Supreme Court in 1971 said Ali’s religious reason for rejecting the draft was good enough for them. Is Jensen’s reason (Jensen, who fears and hates Ali’s chosen religion) good enough for us, forty years after the Ali era, as we lay Ali to rest?
Let me be clear: conscientious objectors do not forfeit their right or ability to participate in government. When our country has had a draft, we have created legal avenues by which citizens may refuse to participate in what they view as unjust killing. We should not ostracize or punish citizens who have honestly taken such a position.
…During the Vietnam War, while his peers stepped up when drafted doing their duty in combat and non-combat roles, Phil Jensen objected to serving in the military. But Phil didn’t just object to combat—he wouldn’t wear the uniform at all, not even in a non-combat role (that was an option, there was a classification for that). He answered no and was assigned community service in a parking garage safe at home [Stanford Adelstein, “While Others Served—Jensen Wouldn’t Wear Our Country’s Uniform,” A Way to Go, 2016.05.24].
Seth Tupper talked to Jensen about Adelstein’s accusations and got contradictory answers. Tupper did get Jensen to offer this reason for seeking conscientious objector status:
Tupper also checked in with Jensen’s primary challenger, Rep. Jacqueline Sly. She seemed to support Adelstein’s attack:
The Journal also asked Sly why Jensen’s 44-year-old draft status is relevant to this year’s race for the Republican nomination for the District 33 Senate seat.
“Every decision that we make in our lives has an impact on other decisions we make,” Sly said. “Whether we’re 18 or 40 or 65, all of those things reflect who we are as individuals, and when we’re making decisions for the state, I think who we are and what we’ve done and who we are inside is reflected. We’re representing people in our district, and if we don’t believe in defending our country, I think our country is in trouble” [Tupper, 2016.05.27].
Of course, Sly has never worn the uniform, either. She and Jensen both wrap themselves in the uniforms of family members, which makes me think (a) how has having family members in the military made either Sly or Jensen better legislators, and (b) do state legislators really spend so much time legislating national defense issues that the uniforms they or their family members have worn should be a primary voting issue?
Powers should be all over this attack on one of his least favorite legislators. He should be happy to sit up and bark for GOP mainstreamer Rep. Jacqueline Sly, who is challenging Senator Jensen for his seat in the June 7 primary. And given his willingness to cloak really bad arguments in “Support the Troops!” hogwash, Powers should have no problem skewering Jensen on even the slightest failure to play good soldier.
But since the accusations come from someone else Powers hates, former Senator Stanford Adelstein, Powers can’t really embrace the attack. Powers still broadcasts the attack, but he also dismisses Adelstein as a fading and cranky old man who meddles in elections with his PAC money. Powers then shrugs it all away with this offhanded excuse for conscientious objectors:
The issue may resonate for Vietnam Era Veterans and their families, or possibly veterans in general, and they have every reason to feel that way. But beyond that, It’s a political attack using 44 year old information because someone, when they were 18, didn’t really want to go to fight in a controversial war during a turbulent time in our country’s history.
You know, this is one of those cases where you can’t find yourself compelled to root for anyone. And I’m not sure how effective it’s going to be in moving voters. Jensen supporters will likely excuse it, and Jensen haters are still not going to like him.
Well, there you go. When the GOP spin machine can’t spin an issue without affirming the position of someone he doesn’t like, Powers works himself into an excuse for not supporting the troops. With cowardly agnosticism, Powers declares the whole fracas boring… but makes sure he posts the fracas in detail for all to enjoy.
Let me try to offer a clearer assessment of the attack and the coverage:
I can understand a citizen’s choice to conscientiously object to military service. I do not think such objection disqualifies anyone from being an effective public servant in other offices.
However, when Republicans regularly post pictures of themselves in their military uniforms and tout their service as a reason they should be legislators, it is perfectly consistent for a Republican to point out to Republican voters that one of their primary candidates refused to wear a uniform during a war.
But Senator Jensen rejects all that fact and evidence in favor of one call from a constituent about funny-skulled foreigners in town:
Speaking over the phone on the way to Pierre on Tuesday, Jensen recalled when one of his constituents told him he witnessed “dozens of South Americans” fleeing a white bus parked near downtown Rapid City.“He knew they were South Americans,” Jensen said, “because they had different skull structures and skin tones from Mexicans” [Anderson, 2016.02.17].
Ah, but Senator Jensen and Rep. May aren’t going after all TANF applicants. SB 153 would randomly test two percent of all adult TANF applicants. And Senator Jensen and Rep. May further soften the hammer on the poor with a three-strikes policy. The randomly chosen subjects who test positive suffer no penalty and can still start receiving TANF, but within 45 days, they have to pee in the cup again. If they pee hot the second time, the Department of Social Services “shall provide the applicant with information on available drug treatment programs, and the applicant shall be tested again within forty-five days.” Only if the applicant fails the third drug test does the applicant lose benefits for one year.
Applicants only pay for the drug tests themselves if they test positive; that money comes out of their benefit checks—but watch the books, DSS: the money for the first and second positive tests can come out of subsequent checks, but you’ll have to withhold money from a check prior to the third test, then refund the TANF recipient if she pees clean. So technically, SB 153 will withhold benefits for which a citizen is eligible without proof that the citizen is guilty of a violation.
According to state data gathered by ThinkProgress, the seven states with existing programs — Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users. The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent. Meanwhile, they’ve collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort, and millions more may have to be spent in coming years [Bryce Covert and Josh Israel, “What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients,” ThinkProgress, 2015.02.26].
Last year, South Dakota averaged about 5,900 TANF recipients a month. Only about 640 of those recipients are adults. If we test 2% of those recipients for drugs, and if the going positive rate for TANF recipients is 1%, we will catch 1.5 TANF dopers per year. To actually kick them off TANF, we’ll do three tests, tripling the cost to get even less of the cash benefit these welfare-loathing legislators bleat about when they say they’re stopping druggies from taking our hard-earned tax dollars.
While we’re at it, remember that little more than a quarter of TANF money goes to cash assistance; TANF spends more on programs meant to tackle child poverty, like childcare, refundable tax credits, subsidized jobs, and early childhood education. TANF isn’t just cash handed to the poor to go buy drugs: it’s mostly investments in healthy social policy. Interestingly, South Dakota spends more than 60% of its TANF dollars on basic assistance, leading the nation in that ratio.
But let’s get wild with the numbers here. The most recent numbers available from the feds show South Dakota spending $15.5 million a year on basic assistance. Multiply that amount by 11% (the percentage of adult recipients in South Dakota TANF), then by 2% (the number randomly tested), then by 1% (the percentage we’d expect from other states’ experience to test positive), and you get $336 in savings… and that assumes that every meathead who tests positive the first time lacks the brains or will to go clean before the second or third test.
$336? Rick Melmer made more than that consulting on GEAR UP for Mid-Central Educational Coop per day. Why don’t we have a bill making Melmer pee in a cup?
The Republican caucus will continue the myth-based bashing of low-income South Dakotans. We can keep arguing them down in committee, but the only long-term solution to end this crusade against false threats is to throw people like Phil Jensen, Elizabeth May, Lynne DiSanto, and Betty Olson out of the Legislature and elect replacements (read, Democrats) who dedicate themselves to real practical statecraft.
O.K., I’ve finally gotten around to viewing the videos of the press conference Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle) and other legislators held in Rapid City on July 9 to call for a special session of the Legislature. I have said that the special session call is a distracting effort to revisit the debate over Common Core standards. While legislators in attendance did talk Common Core, they did present some other policy ideas that could come up if the Legislature wanted to have a serious talk about K-12 funding. These legislators appear to agree that the state has shorted K-12 education, that a teacher shortage has resulted from that underfunding, and that we need to put more money in the K-12 pot. They are simply desperate to find any solution other than raising taxes.
Let’s look more closely at the videos of that meeting (Part 1 and Part 2):
Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) says we should take a bigger chunk of the $514-million Education Enhancement Trust Fund, a creation of tobacco settlement money. The state already takes 4% a year from that fund for education, which appropriation Senator Jensen says as of April 2015 equaled $20.5 million. Senator Jensen says take an additional $20.5 million out of that fund to boost teacher pay. I’d be alarmed at the suggestion—spending more of our interest seems like a sure-fire way to drain an investment fund to have less earnings potential to keep up with inflation, but in FY2014, the Education Enhancement Fund had $70 million in income, a return better than 16%. Senator Jensen may indeed have a viable ongoing funding mechanism for teacher pay raises.
But what Senator Jensen giveth, Senator Jensen also taketh away. Senator Jensen advocates education savings accounts as a way around the limitation on using vouchers to direct public money to private religious schools. In Arizona and Florida, parents get a debit card and can use it on educational expenses:
The state deposits the funds it would have spent educating a given child in public schools into a bank account controlled by his parents. The parents can use those funds — the amount ranges from $5,000 to more than $30,000 a year — to pay for personal tutors, homeschooling workbooks, online classes, sports team fees and many types of therapy, including horseback riding lessons for children with disabilities. They can also spend the money on private school tuition or save some of it for college [Stephanie Simon, “States Weigh Turning Education Funds over to Parents,” Politico, 2015.02.06].
Courts have upheld an Arizona educational savings account program since the direct beneficiary is families, not private schools, so state money is not being used directly to support religion. But if Senator Jensen isn’t increasing revenue, then this plan inevitably shifts resources away from public schools and teacher pay. It also ignores the basic principle of public education: the money we spend on public schools is not about educating our own children and to heck with everyone else. The money we spend on public schools is about maintaining the fabric of society by making sure every child receives a fair and free education.
Amusingly, Senator Jensen cites education report cards from the American Legislative Exchange Council showing that South Dakota is falling further behind in identifying high quality teachers, retaining effective teachers, and removing ineffective teachers… all of which sound like code for ALEC priorities of wrecking education with merit pay and anti-labor provisions. (The most recent ALEC education report card ranks South Dakota 49th for education quality.) Yet from this information, Senator Jensen concludes that
You wonder why we’re losing teachers in South Dakota. One, we’ve got to pay them adequate pay, and then two, we’ve got to stop mandating these common core standards that are just a weight around the ankles of our teachers, and we need to set them free to teach and do what they do best [Senator Phil Jensen, press conference, Rapid City, South Dakota, 2015.07.09, timestamp 1:44].
Senator Jensen’s conclusions find no support in the 2014 ALEC education report, which speaks dismissively of efforts to raise teacher pay in Chicago and advocates rigorous standards and testing for accountability. But if Senator Jensen wants to ignore what ALEC is actually saying and argue for making teachers’ lives better, let’s not get in his way!
Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) asks “Why not consider Common Core?” Rep. Russell estimates that the state is spending $20 million to $25 million on Common Core. He says taking that topic off the table is foolish, since our standards and testing could fund a quarter of the pay increase we need to get our teachers to 38th in the nation. I applaud Rep. Russell for getting off the tinfoil concerns about Common Core as a socialist/Obama plot and focusing on the fiscal impacts. But Rep. Russell assumes here that we would get rid of state standards and testing completely, not just revert to some other set of standards. Alas, I’m the only person I know who has advocated getting rid of state standards completely. If Rep. Russell thinks banning Common Core means instant savings, he’s got some persuading to do.
Moving to bigger fiscal horses, Rep. Russell says the Governor and Legislature have “starved the school districts” while prioritizing other less valuable projects. Rep. Russell points to $30 million for Build South Dakota and highlights the money dedicated to ESL classes and housing for immigrant workers drawn here by industries supported by the EB-5 program. Rep. Russell also points to low-income housing for this increasing immigrant population, additional parole and probation officers to supervise the increasing number of felons released into communities by Governor Daugaard’s criminal justice reform, and more state employees hired to comply with ObamaCare as proof that the state’s budget priorities are out of whack.
Rep. Russell proposes dedicating half of the state’s sales tax to education to add $50 million to state K-12 funding. Add savings from cutting standards, and we get $75 million of the $80 million Rep. Russell says we need to raise our teacher pay to 38th in the nation.
Rep. Russell says that Hot Springs lost six good, experienced teachers in one year to Wyoming. Rep. Russell says that dedicating more money to teacher pay is “how we keep our teachers.”
Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-35/Rapid City) offers no concrete policy proposals. It’s not even clear that she agrees with her colleagues’ suggestions for putting more money in the K-12 pot. Trying to spin the failed Rapid City opt-out vote as a sign that she and her fellow naysayers believe in funding education adequately, Rep. DiSanto says the problem with our school budgets is a spending issue, not a revenue issue. I guess that could mean she agrees with Rep. Russell’s point about budget priorities.
Senator Jensen and Representative Russell acknowledge that the teacher shortage is real and that higher teacher pay is the solution. That by itself is a victory for common sense in the South Dakota Legislature.
These two conservative Republicans also put a few good ideas on the flow. If they could mobilize a majority of legislators to raise $75 million from existing state funds to raise teacher pay without draining the K-12 pool with stealth vouchers, I’d be all for a special session of the Legislature. Now let’s see if Jensen and Russell can make that case to their colleagues.
State legislators Phil Jensen, Lance Russell, Blaine Campbell, and Lynne DiSanto staged a press conference yesterday to express their opposition to the Rapid City Area Schools property tax opt-out, on which Rapid Citians are voting today.
Wait a minute: Rep. Russell is from Hot Springs. Is he allowed to come politick on an opt-out vote in a district he does not represent? [Correction 12:47 CDT: Russell does represent a chunk of RCAS! As local geographer Curt points out in our lead-off comment, District 30 wanders right up into the southern range of the Rapid City school district.]
In the press release from media event hosts Smarter Solutions for Students, none of the legislators express any opposition to the idea of Rapid City residents spending more money on students in and of itself. Instead, curiously, they warn that they themselves will likely head back to Pierre and raise taxes on everybody:
State Representative Russell stated his opposition to the opt-out issue is due to their concern over impending tax increases that are rumored to be coming from the state legislator’s blue ribbon task force on education. Russell stated that he felt the public has a right to know of the potential impending tax increases from the state, prior to voting on a $30 million opt-out property tax increase locally. Russell challenged Governor Daugaard to “level with the voters of Rapid City prior to such a large property tax increase,” stating that he felt the Governor was not being forthcoming in regards to resolving the state education issues [Smarter Solutions for Students, press release, 2015.06.01].
I’m not sure how this argument plays well for the legislators involved. Either they are affirming Senator Jensen’s Session-ending assessment that legislators, themselves included, are mostly ineffective puppets who couldn’t stop a gubernatorial tax hike if they wanted, or they are telling voters that they themselves plan to vote for a state tax increase and don’t want a local opt-out to drain the bucket of cash and political will and make their vote harder. In either case, the legislators are making a good case for electing new legislators.
Rep. DiSanto confuses matters further:
Representative DiSanto said, in opposition to the opt-out, that the Governor’s recommendation of an opt-out as a solution to local education problems is “not going about it the right way;”… [SSS, 2015.06.01].
Rep. DiSanto goes to Pierre as part of the SDGOP “no new taxes” clique, does nothing in her first session in Pierre to tackle the Legislature’s generation-spanning neglect of K-12 funding that has put Rapid City and most other South Dakota schools under enormous financial pressure, and she says the only option the Legislature and the Governor have left for local districts is not the right way to keep teachers in the classrooms? What is the right way, Rep. DiSanto?
“I think we really need to seriously take a look at the number of districts we have here in South Dakota and possibly talk about doing some consolidation in some areas where it would make sense,” said DiSanto [“Legislators Urge a ‘No’ on Opt Out,” KOTA-TV, updated 2015.06.02].
Rep. DiSanto can’t brook putting more resources into education. Rather than allowing her neighbors to invest more money in the second-largest school district in the state, she wants her neighbors to let their schools suffer for a year and hope that a politically unsalable plan will allow them to raid the budgets of smaller school districts. Don’t plant more crops; just turn cannibal—why does that not sound like a Smarter Solution for Students?
Rapid City voters, maybe you can come up with some good reasons for voting against the opt-out today. But these four legislators aren’t giving you any.
Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) was having a bad enough day Friday. The conservative lawmaker saw the Legislature rubber-stamping the Executive Branch’s proposals. He watched his Republican leadership collaborate with three willing Democrats to expand government with a state debt collection agency.
And then some darned liberal blogger comes up to talk to him. Hence, his heavy heart in discussing the results of the 2015 Legislative Session:
Senator Jensen’s heartburn over education comes in part from the defeat of two measures he sponsored: House Bill 1093, which would have protected parents’ right to opt their children out of mandatory testing, and House Bill 1223, which would have erased Common Core standards from South Dakota schools. We can debate whether either of those measures addressed “federalization,” but Senator Jensen could at least take heart with House Bill 1101, which explicitly denies the state Board of Education any authority “to require the use of specifically designated curriculum or methods of instruction.”
Senator Jensen may be disappointed that the Legislature isn’t giving teachers or kids much honey, but at least South Dakotans can enjoy more milk:
In perhaps the Legislative quote of the week, Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) rises in futile opposition to House Bill 1228, which will create a state debt collection agency, and likens the South Dakota Legislature to pro wrestling:
…whole lot of action, pre-determined outcome.
Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) rises to lament the numerous “blue badges”—i.e., executive branch officials lobbying for the creation of the state debt collection agency. Senator Greenfield says the Legislature is “weak by choice,” losing sight of issues in the final, rushed days of the Session and just playing nice with the executive branch in hopes of getting home on time.
The Senate approved the Governor’s debt collection agency 19–16.