May 7, 2024 News Round-Up

Gun Rights

MISSION, S.D. (Kathleen Shannon / Greater Dakota News Service) – South Dakota’s June 4 primary will be the first national election here since ballot dropboxes were banned in 2023.

It is one of 12 states to ban using dropboxes to cast votes, although no state election offices using the boxes in 2020 found a connection to voter fraud or stolen ballots, according to an Associated Press survey. The change is more likely to impact rural and tribal voters, who already face barriers to voting.

Sen. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said although Native voter turnout for tribal elections is good, turnout for statewide elections is lower. He said dropboxes helped.

“It was something that a lot of people utilized on our reservation communities, where you might have to travel 70 miles to go vote,” Bordeaux explained.

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A 2022 federal report on Native American voting rights encourages local officials to provide sites for voter registration, polling and mail ballot collection in places convenient for Native voters.

Early voting is still possible with a mail-in absentee ballot. But Bordeaux pointed out it can be complicated on reservations, where most homes do not have street addresses. The state’s voter registration form allows applicants to describe or draw a map of where they live, but they cannot use post office box numbers.

“I can’t get UPS or the typical person to find my house on a map,” Bordeaux noted. “It makes it even more difficult for me to figure out how to get our tribal membership so that they can vote, you know, without the P.O. box number.”

Plus, South Dakota does not accept tribal ID cards for voter registration. Bordeaux sponsored a bill to change the rule in the last legislative session, but he said it was pulled from the House floor by a different sponsor who predicted it wouldn’t pass. The deadline for voter registration is May 20.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Joshua Haiar, South Dakota Searchlight) – South Dakota voters might decide in November if future primary elections should be open to all voters and whether recreational marijuana use should be legalized for adults.

Backers of each ballot measure said they’re turning in petitions this week, bringing the number of measures on the ballot or pending for addition to the ballot to six, with potential remaining for more. The deadline to submit petitions for a new law or law change is Tuesday. The deadline to refer a law passed by the Legislature to the ballot is June 25.

The Secretary of State’s Office must now verify that the open primary and recreational marijuana petitions have enough signatures from registered voters.

Joe Kirby, chairman of the South Dakota Open Primaries ballot question committee, drove the group’s petitions to the Capitol in Pierre on Monday.

“It’s basic democracy,” Kirby said of the measure.

He said the group is submitting about 46,000 signatures to the secretary of state, surpassing the 35,017 signatures required for a proposed constitutional amendment.

A primary is a preliminary election used by political parties to select candidates for the general election.

Democrats allow everyone, including the state’s approximately 150,000 independents and non-politically affiliated voters, to participate in their primaries, while Republicans limit theirs to party members.

Under the open primaries proposal, all candidates for an individual office would run in the same primary, regardless of their party, and the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election.

Kirby, a Republican, said the current primary system rewards and encourages partisan politics. He said when politicians are held accountable to more voters in their district, they are likely to listen to their district over party leadership.

He said an open primary system would result in more moderate, South Dakota-focused candidates gaining traction.

“The only real opponents are the party bosses on the left and right,” Kirby said.

Republican critics, however, argue that the system would dilute party ideologies and allow non-party members too much influence over the selection of candidates.

“We are 110% opposed to the idea,” South Dakota Republican Party Chair John Wiik told South Dakota Searchlight last year. “It is our job in the Republican Party to put out the best candidates and decide who’s going to represent us on the general election ballot.”

The initiative to legalize adult recreational marijuana use in the state has more than enough signatures and will be submitted around noon Tuesday, according to Matthew Schweich, who is leading the effort. He said the group has yet to count its signatures, but it has a “good, healthy buffer,” beyond the 17,508 needed for proposed laws not amending the state constitution.

Advocates believe the measure would create a new source of tax revenue and provide regulatory clarity for cannabis use. South Dakota voters legalized medical marijuana in 2020. A portion of that same ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana was challenged in court and invalidated.

More submitted petitions and ballot measures
Among other citizen-led measures for which petitions have already been submitted, one proposal aims to reinstate abortion rights in the state constitution.

Another would repeal the state sales tax on anything sold for human consumption, except alcoholic beverages and prepared food. The measure, which targets grocery taxes, would not prohibit cities from taxing groceries. Currently, the state has a 4.2% sales and use tax, and cities can tack on an additional 2% tax.

Verification of the signatures on those measures is pending.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has placed two constitutional amendments on the ballot for voter consideration. The first would modernize state constitutional language by replacing references to male officeholders with gender-neutral terms. The second seeks to lift a ban on work requirements for Medicaid expansion enrollees, potentially altering access to the joint federal-state health care program.

Other possible ballot measures
Voters could also be asked to reject a new state law passed by the Legislature that would regulate aspects of carbon dioxide pipelines. The deadline for turning in signatures to refer a legislative measure to the ballot is June 25.

Supporters of the legislation, passed last winter, said it implements new protections for landowners while providing a path forward for a controversial carbon dioxide pipeline project. Opponents view it as a capitulation to the pipeline company that takes some power from counties and gives it to the state.

Jim Eschenbaum is managing the petition effort. He said the group has not counted its signatures but is confident it will collect the 17,508 it needs.

Other petitions that may be circulating in search of signatures, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, include efforts to revise legislative term limits, to prevent the Legislature from amending or repealing successful ballot measures for seven years, and to repeal the state’s medical marijuana program.

Ballot question list
Measures placed on the Nov. 5 ballot by the Legislature:

An amendment to the state constitution updating references to certain officeholders and people (replacing male-specific pronouns with neutral language).
An amendment to the state constitution authorizing the state to impose work requirements on certain people who are eligible for expanded Medicaid.
Measures submitted or soon to be submitted for inclusion on the Nov. 5 ballot, which are pending verification of the required number of petition signatures:

An initiated measure prohibiting state sales taxes on items sold for human consumption, specifically targeting state sales taxes on groceries.
An initiated amendment to the state constitution re-establishing abortion rights.
An initiated amendment to the state constitution establishing open primary elections.
An initiated measure legalizing adult recreational use, possession and distribution of marijuana.

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem reportedly expressed interest in a top position at the National Rifle Association (NRA) as early as last fall, according to sources with Axios.

She allegedly offered to resign from her role as governor to take on the position, as per a source familiar with her conversation with former NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.
In late fall last year, Noem reportedly called LaPierre to advocate for becoming the next executive vice president or CEO of the gun lobby. This move comes amidst a heated public relations cycle for Noem, involving controversial passages in her book about shooting her dog and a claimed meeting with Kim Jong Un.

Noem’s alignment with the NRA has been longstanding, highlighted by her signing of an executive order during its annual conference last year. Following LaPierre’s resignation in January, Noem’s name surfaced in senior NRA circles as a potential successor. However, the decision ultimately rests with the NRA’s 76-person board.

Noem, previously considered a potential contender for Donald Trump’s running mate, has defended her decision to shoot her dog, Cricket, citing the animal as dangerous and untrainable. Regarding the alleged Kim Jong Un meeting, she has not provided a clear answer but stated that the book would be revised.

A spokesperson for Noem, Ian Fury, denied the conversation with LaPierre, emphasizing her commitment to her role as Governor of South Dakota. LaPierre, through his lawyer Kent Correll, declined to comment on the matter.

RAPID CITY, S.D. – A Custer, S.D., man who taught in both Custer and Rapid City has been sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to receiving child pornography.

Nathan Frisch, a 43-year-old former teacher in both Custer and Rapid City, was sentenced to five years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release. The sentencing took place on April 25, 2024.

Frisch was also ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution, a $5,000 special assessment to the Victims of Trafficking Fund, a $5,000 special assessment to the Amy, Vicky and Andy Child Pornography Assistance Fund, and a $100 special assessment to the Federal Crime Victims Fund.

Frisch was indicted for Receipt of Child Pornography and Possession of Child Pornography by a federal grand jury in March of 2023. On January 17, 2024, he pleaded guilty to receiving child pornography.

Frisch admitted that he knowingly downloaded child pornography from the internet, using his cell phone and laptop between September 4, 2022, and December 30, 2022. Frisch also admitted that he used the “Reface” application to transpose the faces of female minors onto sexually explicit depictions of adult women.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse, launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and the DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state, and local resources to locate, apprehend, and prosecute individuals who exploit children, as well as identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit https://www.justice.gov/psc.

This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the South Dakota Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Knox prosecuted the case.

Frisch was immediately remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

IOWA CITY, IA – University of Iowa police have removed materials a pro-Palestine group was using to set up an encampment at Hubbard Park on Monday morning. While no one was arrested in the incident, the university said police did move in and seize the items the group had brought to set up an encampment at around 7:15 a.m.

In a social media post, the group, which calls themselves “University of Iowa Action For Palestine,” shared images of police seizing the materials and said the zone has been disbanded. They also promised to return.

According to the university, police warned the group that they were in violation of university policy and that if they didn’t remove the materials within 30 minutes, they would be removed and could be placed under arrest.

According to reports the group continued to build a fence to reinforce the camp with chicken wire, wood pallets, plywood and handles and a sheet of corrugated metal.
At that time law enforcement acted on the university’s policy and removed the materials.

Police said they decided to give the organizers one final warning to leave or be arrested. The organizers reportedly chose to leave and no arrests were made.
Under the university’s policies, encampments are not permitted, and those violating the policy could be subject to criminal and university disciplinary actions.

SIOUX CITY, IA – A Tennessee-based sanitation company has agreed to pay more than half a million dollars after a federal investigation found it illegally hired at least two dozen children to clean dangerous meat processing facilities in Iowa.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Monday that Fayette Janitorial Service LLC entered into a consent judgment, in which the company agrees to nearly $650,000 in civil penalties and the court-ordered mandate that it no longer employs minors. The February filing indicated federal investigators believed at least four children had still been working at one Iowa slaughterhouse as of Dec. 12.

U.S. law prohibits companies from employing people younger than 18 to work in meat processing plants because of the hazards.

The Labor Department alleged that Fayette used at least nine at Seaboard Triumph Foods in Sioux City, Iowa. The work included sanitizing dangerous equipment like head splitters, jaw pullers and meat bandsaws in hazardous conditions where animals are killed and rendered.

Seaboard Triumph Foods said in February they terminated their contracts with Fayette.

The agreement stipulates that Fayette will hire a third-party consultant to monitor the company’s compliance with child labor laws for at least three years, as well as to facilitate trainings. The company must also establish a hotline for individuals to report concerns about child labor abuses.

A spokesperson for Fayette told The Associated Press in February that the company was cooperating with the investigation and has a “zero-tolerance policy for minor labor.”

The Labor Department’s latest statistics indicate the number of children being employed illegally in the U.S. has increased 88% since 2019.

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