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Novstrups Rig Ride Regs

Seth Tupper reports that in 2014, both Al and David Novstrup (Rs-3/Aberdeen) watered down proposed amusement park regulations to protect his Thunder Road amusement parks:

…when [Al] Novstrup learned of Hickey’s draft legislation to regulate amusement rides, Novstrup was immediately concerned.

“I very quickly heard about this and got a copy emailed to me and saw some things in it that were over-regulation,” Novstrup said in March 2014 during recorded public remarks in the state Senate chamber. “And so I contacted the good representative and said, ‘Can we compromise on this? Can we work toward an equitable solution for everybody?’ And he was very willing to do that.”

To help shape and draft the legislation, Novstrup brought in representatives of two amusement industry organizations, the Outdoor Amusement Business Association and the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Novstrup’s son, David, who is also a state lawmaker, and is the general manager and co-owner of the Thunder Road park in Aberdeen, said he additionally contributed to the drafting of the bill [Seth Tupper, “Weak SD Carnival Safety Laws Written Largely by Industry and Lawmaker Who Owns Amusement Parks,” Rapid City Journal, 2016.09.18].

Government of the Novstrups, by the Novstrups, for the Novstrups... for a couple more months.
Government of the Novstrups, by the Novstrups, for the Novstrups… for a couple more months.

The resulting legislation, 2014 HB 1168, requires annual documented inspections of amusement rides by certified inspectors and daily documented inspections by owners, operators, or certified inspectors, but it also clarifies that “amusement ride” does not include fixed rides like those operated by the Novstrups in Aberdeen, Watertown, and Sioux Falls. Certified inspector Ken Martin tells Tupper that the exemption for fixed rides is “stupid,” has “no logic in it and no reason for it,” and is “purely somebody’s palm being greased.”

Seth Tupper notes that, while Al Novstrup’s claim that he is “under more regulation after the bill passed than before the bill passed” is “technically true,” 2014 HB 1168 included no enforcement, not even a clear statement of where amusement ride operators are supposed to send their proof of insurance and inspection documentation.

Tupper notes that 2014 HB 1168 writes more rules for riders than for ride operators. In 2014, Al Novstrup said that 90% of amusement ride accidents are riders’ fault.

Tupper’s critique follows up on negative reactions to the Novstrups’ self-non-regulation in 2014: then District 3 House candidate Burt Elliott criticized Al Novstrup over 2014 HB 1168, and conservative blogger Ken Santema agreed that HB 1168 was “crony protectionism.”

In 2011, David Novstrup voted for 2011 HB 1148, which exempted his family business from our minimum wage law. In 2015, both Novstrups voted for 2015 SB 69 (now Referred Law 19), which would make it harder for candidates to run for office and challenge incumbents. Both Novstrups also voted for 2015 SB 177 (now Referred Law 20), which would further insulate them and their business friends from having to pay young workers the standard minimum wage.

2014 HB 1168 contributes to the pattern of the Novstrups’ voting for bills that serve their self-interest.


  1. mike from iowa 2016-09-19

    con·flict of in·ter·est

    a situation in which a person is in a position to derive personal benefit from actions or decisions made in their official capacity.

  2. Rorschach 2016-09-19

    Seth Tupper notes that, while Al Novstrup’s claim that he is “under more regulation after the bill passed than before the bill passed” is “technically true,” 2014 HB 1168 included no enforcement, not even a clear statement of where amusement ride operators are supposed to send their proof of insurance and inspection documentation.

    I disagree. Novstrups are not under any more regulation after the bill passed than before it passed. They had to have insurance before. There is absolutely nothing in the bill that adds any regulation at all to their “fixed” amusement ride operation. In fact, the new section they wrote in about riders being responsible to follow all rules, applies to both portable and fixed rides. So this bill gave Novstrups no new regulation whatsoever, and a measure of civil protection that they didn’t have before.

    In the next legislature, somebody should bring a bill to amend these laws to apply equally to “fixed” rides as well as to mobile rides.

  3. Rorschach 2016-09-19

    Al Novstrup likes bills that impose burdens on his customers and provide civil protection to him. In his first term in the legislature he introduced HB 1288 (2004) which in outrageous fashion would have created a petty offense and imposed fines on children of any age if they were injured on one of his rides because they “exceeded one’s abilities.” Section 3 of that bill also contained numerous other grounds for imposing fines on kids when they get hurt on one of his rides. Fortunately, the legislature didn’t pass that outrageous piece of self-serving legislation.

    Al Novstrup has been engaged in the pursuit of helping himself as a legislature for many years now.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-19

    Ror, it would seem only appropriate that an amendmen tightening those laws come from District 3, where they originated. I can happily oblige. I wonder how the absence of the Novstrups will affect that vote.

  5. Steve Hickey 2016-09-19

    It was my bill, and it wasn’t hijacked. It originated with an near tragedy at a SD amusement park and from a KSFY reporter named Mark Roper who checked into our lack of regulation and gave me a call. He and I walked this one along from start to finish. He tracked the process with news stories. I am the one would looked carefully at the statutes from Minnesota and Nebraska and used parts of them to get our bill drafted.

    Rev. Novstrup added the part about rider responsibility which was a good concession and helpful to keep the industry from opposing this bill altogether. In SD, if industry doesn’t like a bill, it doesn’t pass.

    I told Seth all this and he wrote a different story. These were my brief clarifications made on twitter to show my disapproval of this story…

    SH: wow @SethTupper eviscerates my bill. What’s next no SD farmers can help draft Ag legislation? @MarkRoperTV

    Should we not vote on school bills if we have kids in the schools or spouses who teach? Should be opt of of tax bills because we pay taxes? Where doesn’t this conflict of interest thing end – it’s a citizenry legislation.

    SH: @SethTupper @MarkRoperTV I told you Seth I drafted it based on MN/NE laws & RepNovstrup added the rider responsibility section. Headline is junk.

    SH: @SethTupper @MarkRoperTV and you left out why KSFYs Roper and I did this together. I wasn’t Novstrups Bill it was mine. Sen Parsley is wrong

    SH: @SethTupper @MarkRoperTV yes it was brought up at the time Novstrup was an ride owner. Google it. All laws are compromises with industry.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-19

    Steve, do other states have the fixed-ride exemptions and the rider blame-shifting provisions?

  7. Al Novstrup 2016-09-19

    98 legislators voted yes as they believed this bill was worthy of support. Seven voted no as they believed it was too much regulation. All the Democratic legislators voted yes.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-19

    98 legislators can be wrong. 98 legislators can, as Senator Scott Parsley says in the Tupper article, be inclined to vote for something that sounds better than nothing, even as does a favor for corporate interests who don’t want to take bigger steps.

    But hey, if 1168 was a good first step, Al, would you support the logical step of removing an exemption that the safety expert in the article says has no logic or reason?

  9. Misty 2016-09-19

    I love the alliteration in the headline.

  10. mike from iowa 2016-09-19

    From watching wingnut dominated US congress under dumbass dubya, Dems were pretty much coerced into voting for bad legislation as if they had a gun at their heads-figuratively speaking.

  11. Darin Larson 2016-09-19

    “Rev. Novstrup added the part about rider responsibility which was a good concession and helpful to keep the industry from opposing this bill altogether. In SD, if industry doesn’t like a bill, it doesn’t pass.”

    So Mr. Hickey is applauding efforts by Mr. Novstrup to try to shift liability concerns to patrons of his business? You know I am familiar with the oft-repeated concept of sausage making being like the making of legislation, but this is beyond sickening to me.

    Rorschach’s history lesson in special interest law by the Novstrup’s is a profile in self serving conflict of interest law-making.

    If this type of activity was done by Hillary Clinton the outrage would spew forth like a volcano–Lock her up! But this is SD where conflict of interest laws do not apply to people in the legislature.

    We apparently have legislators who not only fail to recuse themselves from conflicts, they are the chief sponsors for the bills on which they have conflicts. It is not like the national debate over the influence of special interest groups. Heck, in SD, THE SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS ARE IN THE LEGISLATURE!

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-19

    93 legislators voted this year for SB 136, the grassy strips bill that Al opposed. Al’s threshold for bill awesomeness must be somewhere between 93 and 98.

  13. Steve Hickey 2016-09-19

    Oh chill, Darin. If you’d bother to look into the issue you’d discover nearly all claims on these rides are due to drunk riders, kids who disregard the guidelines, stupidity, pushing, rough housing , throwing crap, climbing out, standing up, etc…

    A lawmaker that writes laws and imposes them on industry when they know little about the industry is like a lawmaker writing laws that effect teachers with no input from educators.

    Let’s exempt any legislator with education credentials from all Ed bills. Can you imagine that we even have educators and teachers sitting on the Ed committee!?!? The conflict of interest is appalling!


  14. grudznick 2016-09-19

    Just another hatchet hack job by the “legitimate liberal media.” No surprises here, just an attack on trustworthy public servants.

  15. Greg 2016-09-19

    If all Democrats voted for this bill and is a bad bill why in hell didn’t they vote against it. Looks to me like a election year smear job of the Novstrup’s. The same Democrats also voted to raise the sales tax on food and giving property tax relief to commercial property owners.

  16. Steve Hickey 2016-09-19

    If I recall, this bill had no effect on Thunder Road in Sioux Falls because the City of Sioux Falls, as do a number of cities in SD, already have an annual inspection requirement. What was happening is the smaller promoters were setting up at the small county fairs that weren’t requiring inspections. Also, the insurance companies were fine with the bill because they already required inspections for the operators they insured. They were happy to make sure there was documentation for inspections and daily inspections. This bill brought consistency statewide and it was a good bill – and a great example of how responsive a legislature can be to something that happened in the state (a near tragedy) and the media and public and industry all making sure rides are safe. Parents were interviewed and they were shocked that there wasn’t an inspection requirement. I can’t access our state legislature website from a foreign server so I can’t tell you who voted against it. But I can guess: the same people who vote against any sort of government oversight or involvement in anything. I’m disappointed in Sen Parsley for politicising this bill to smear Rep Novstrup. I don’t remember him speaking on this bill or complaining at the time it was a watered down bill, in any way. My concern was not about places like Thunder Road. I was interested in the amusement rides that are set up and torn down, hauled, and set up again week after week. The “carnival” workers are a rough bunch and the potential is far greater there for bolts to go missing, or loose. Maybe for his next article Seth Tupper can look at the real conflicts of interest in state government. This is not an example.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-19

    I don’t mind a legislator seeking information from industry experts. But that doesn’t change the conflict of interest that lies in watering bills down to keep them from affecting one’s bottom line.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-19

    And Greg, I think your mention of the sales tax hike/property tax cut is a good example of how Democrats may vote for a flawed policy that still improves on the status quo. Dems voting for it doesn’t mean that giving Thunder Road an exemption was a good idea. It simply means that, as Senator Parsley said, the bill offered a net gain in amusement ride safety and regulation.

    Democratic support for the bill in 2014 doesn’t mean that we can’t come back in 2017, with some conflicts of interest removed from the process, and propose a better bill.

  19. Anne 2016-09-19

    I cannot help but note that the attacks on Mr. Tupper are attempts to divert attention away from the accuracy of his reporting. Mr. Novstrup was not merely consulted as a person with legitimate interest; he was permitted to construct the bill. And his construction carefully made a distinction between fixed and traveling rides, and then made an exemption for his kind of amusement rides. It was not Mr. Tupper who noted the questionable discrimination; it was the national safety expert cited by Mr. Tupper.

    The argument about making laws about education without consulting education personnel is inane. South Dakota education law reflects the interests of the school boards, but not the interests of those who do the actual teaching. Rather, like the amusement ride law provides a patronizing list of strictures for the patrons and little about the obligations the operators have to the patrons, the education laws assume profligacy on the part of those who do the actual educating.

    The Journal article and the attempts here to justify the law give a fairly detailed insight into how bad laws are made.

  20. Darin Larson 2016-09-19

    Mr. Hickey. It is one thing for the industry to give input on a bill regulating it. That is politics, although everyone derides the power of special interests. It is quite another thing for the industry to be the legislature itself– in this case Mr Novstrup writing and voting on his own bill. If you can’t see the difference, you have let your years in the Republican establishment in South Dakota blind you to the stench of corruption.

    What is your defense for the Novstrup bill that Rorschach mentioned in 2004? Are you guys seriously saying that there are no conflicts of interest in the South Dakota legislature? If so the EB-5 and the mid Central Co-op scandals make a lot more sense.

  21. Darin Larson 2016-09-19

    And I’m still waiting to find out the fine distinction of how Hillary Clinton’s State Department personnels’ contact with the Clinton Foundation is an appalling conflict of interest, but the Novstrup family writing their own regulations for their personally owned business is a happy circumstance for the consumers and patrons of South Dakota.

  22. mike from iowa 2016-09-19

    There are no national uniform standards for park rides and no records kept at the federal level. What regs there are are state and local. Like to see a side by side state comparison of regs and see which party controlling red states err on the side of profits versus safety of innocent victims. I think I can prolly guess.

  23. grudznick 2016-09-19

    I have said this before, and might have to bang the drum a bit more. We should allow no teacher or family member of a teacher to vote on any education funding, and absolutely no fatcat administrators or even former fatcat administrators. And no farmer or anybody who makes any farm income should vote on any ag bill. Even if they know the most about the issues.

    So sayeth grudznick.

  24. Darin Larson 2016-09-19

    Hey Grudz, the teachers will be happy to know that they can set their salaries. Here I always thought that school boards did that as Anne pointed out. Why do the school boards spend so much time on those pesky budgets then?

    Comparing 35,000 farmers and probably 100,000 people indirectly involved in ag that are part of a 20 Billion dollar industry in SD might be more like representing taxpayers in general in SD. The tiny amusement park industry with probably a couple dozen owners is hardly the same thing as regulating an industry like ag spread across 100,000 people nor is it akin to representing taxpayers in general. There may be gradations in conflicts, but representing your own interests above those of citizens in general as you carry out your public duties is not a close call. It is a textbook conflict of interest.

  25. grudznick 2016-09-19

    Teachers voting on the resources sent to schools is exactly like carnies voting on tilt-a-whirl regulations. Exactly.

  26. Anne 2016-09-19

    In South Dakota, the teachers have never had a vote on resources sent to their schools. That;s why they buy school supplies for their students out of their own pockets. And that’s why so many leave the state or the profession.

  27. grudznick 2016-09-19

    Teachers in the legislatures do. Even the hordes of former teachers in the legislatures do all the time. Just like how all the farmers and ranchers in the legislatures get to vote on tax exceptions for agriculture. Or how carnies get to vote on circus taxes.

  28. owen reitzel 2016-09-19

    sad to see you still hate teachers grudz. What hoard of teachers?

  29. grudznick 2016-09-19

    Mr. Reitzel, you should have paid better attention to your teachers. I did not say I hate teachers, I said that if carnies can’t vote on carney issues then teachers should get to vote on education issues and farmers shouldn’t vote on agriculture issues.

    I love teachers. Especially good ones.

  30. grudznick 2016-09-19

    My good teachers taught me to not put words in the mouths of others, and that hordes are different than hoards.

  31. Darin Larson 2016-09-19

    Grudz, so the teachers have been controlling the funds going to schools? Man, they are doing a lousy job of it. The teachers should just write up a bill like Mr. Novstrup and give themselves a pay raise then. Why did we have to go through all that heck with the Blue Ribbon panel?

    Seriously, you don’t seem to understand that school boards control the purse strings of the school and Mr. Novstrup controls the purse strings of his business.

  32. grudznick 2016-09-19

    Mr. Larson, let me try yet one more time.

    The legislatures control the money sent to school districts, and yes the boards of said districts then decide how much of it to give to teachers.

    Teachers in the legislatures voting on how much money to give their bosses to dole out back to them is exactly like farmers voting on tax exemptions for pig food. Or like carnies voting on law bills to regulate ferris wheels.

    Mr. Novstrup does not control how much money flows into his business except by advertising and providing great service and a fun, family-oriented atmosphere. He works hard to make the money come to his business.

    Teachers just voting more money to their boards would be like if Mr. Novstrup could wave his gnarled finger and force people off the street to pay admission to his carnival.

  33. Darin Larson 2016-09-19

    So what teachers have enriched themselves at the expense of taxpayers as Mr. Novstrup has dodged the regulation of his industry?

  34. Darin Larson 2016-09-19

    And just let me get this straight, so your argument is that teachers and farmers in the legislature regulate themselves so Mr. Novstrup can regulate himself?

  35. Darin Larson 2016-09-19

    The other part of this story that gripes me is the hypocrisy of the legislature which has imposed absurdly over-broad conflict of interest rules on local government officials while the legislature has never seen a conflict of interest that applies to them.

  36. Adam 2016-09-19

    Novstrup family wants to continue the family tradition of pushing their own private interests in Pierre.

    That which is good for the amusement industry isn’t necessarily good for everyone else, and he should obstain from voting on, sponsoring or co-sponsoring, bills which he unduly financially benefits from.

    When people like Novstrup convince a fellow party member to sponsor one of their personal/private interest bills, Novstrup should, of course, be allowed to vocally champion the bill – but to everyone’s distain for his selfish (perhaps abusive) use of the public office voters granted him.

  37. Darin Larson 2016-09-20

    I slept on it and figured out your argument Grudz, everyone has a conflict in the legislature so no one has a conflict in the legislature, which of course is bovine excrement on both counts.

  38. mike from iowa 2016-09-20

    Pig food is taxed at 4% set by SDCL. Feed 10-45-18.3 Feed for cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, swine, poultry,
    ostriches, emus, rheas and domesticated fur-bearing animals defined in
    chapter 40-35, if such feed is used by farmers or ranchers who are
    regularly engaged in the business of raising and feeding such animals,
    or producing milk for sale for human consumption, and horses and other
    animals with the family equidae. Poultry does not include any fowl other
    than domestic fowl kept and raised for the market or the production of
    eggs for human consumption.

    I see no exemptions.

  39. mike from iowa 2016-09-20

    From what I have seen and read about South Dakota’s wingnut lege, if everyone was disqualified because of conflicts, your state would probably be better off.

  40. mike from iowa 2016-09-20

    How many carnival operators are there in South Dakota and how many are legislators?

    How many teachers? How many legislators?

  41. Steve Parson 2016-09-20

    Since that is who you are running against shouldn’t your website remove “media” and you should state that you aren’t biased in your reporting? Seems like what you are complaining about is similar to you using your supposed “news reporting media” website for your own political gain…

  42. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-20

    Steve, please explain the definitions of the words that would justify the somewhat confusing argument you are making. When have I ever claimed that I am not biased? How is a blog not a “medium” for transmitting information, commentary, and discussion? And please clarify: are you saying that I write to serve my personal and political interests just as the Novstrups write legislation and cast votes to serve their personal and business interests?

  43. Rorschach 2016-09-20

    What Mr. Parson is saying, Cory, is, “Me Republican. Republican good. Democrat bad. Democrat should not criticize Republican. Republican do no wrong. Democrat do wrong by criticizing.”

  44. Adam 2016-09-20

    Steve Parson just exemplified South Dakota’s lame brain attitude and understanding of what a conflict of interest might actually be.

    To think that Cory shouldn’t talk about issues relating to his campaign, or his opponent, on his blog is just pure madness. To my knowledge, Cory’s not spending any tax dollars, or using the Legislature to increase his personal income, through this blog. Novstrup is a different story.

  45. Darin Larson 2016-09-20

    Steve Parsons says: “Seems like what you are complaining about is similar to you using your supposed “news reporting media” website for your own political gain…”

    You don’t seem to understand that Cory and his website are a private enterprise, not a government operation. Cory can do as he pleases and say as he pleases under the protections of the 1st Amendment and other Constitutional protections.

    On the other hand, the Novstrups are in the legislature and serving in official capacities as legislators. When they seek to regulate or not regulate themselves and their own industry and are acting in their official capacities as legislators, questions of conflict of interest arise.

    You need to do a little reading about the definition of conflict of interest.

  46. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-09-21

    Adam, Darin, thank you for helping to clarify the issue for Mr. Parson.

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