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Split widens between lawmakers on State-Tribal Relations Committee

PIERRE -- Legislation officially in the hopper before the 2018 session continued to climb during the weekend. House committee faced 71 bills as of Sunday evening. Senate panels had 65. The session starts noon Tuesday, with a 1 p.m. State of the S...

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South Dakota State Capitol

PIERRE - Legislation officially in the hopper before the 2018 session continued to climb during the weekend.

House committee faced 71 bills as of Sunday evening. Senate panels had 65.

The session starts noon Tuesday, with a 1 p.m. State of the State address from Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Rift deepens

Tribal politics wedged into the 2018 legislative session days before it even opens.

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It's another spat among lawmakers on the State-Tribal Relations Committee.

A tribal council member from Pine Ridge asked Rep. Liz May, R-Kyle, whether the group intended to meet Thursday. She is vice-chairwoman.

On Thursday afternoon, the chairman for the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe speaks to a joint assembly of lawmakers in the State of the Tribes address.

May passed the inquiry along to Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission. He chairs the state-tribal panel and is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

At least some of the lawmakers think the idea is good.

Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, called for an email poll of the 10 members. Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, supported the idea. Full results weren't back as of Sunday night.

The panel intended to meet Jan. 4 in Mission but was rescheduled for Jan. 26, according to a Jan. 4 news release from the Legislative Research Council.

Ag issues opinion

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Attorney General Marty Jackley publicly released a little-noticed official opinion Dec. 20 on whether the State-Tribal Relations Committee could issue subpoenas or otherwise compel witnesses to testify.

Jackley said it depended whether the Legislature gave the power to the committee.

In this instance, the Legislature didn't, according to Jackley.

"Had the Legislature intended to give the State-Tribal Relations Committee similar authority to summon witnesses or secure documentation through compulsory process, it could have," the opinion said.

It added, "The Legislature did not, but it certainly can, if it is so inclined."

Committee members split 5-5 on Heinert's ruling at the Oct. 23 meeting whether the committee had the power.

GEAR UP shadow

Heinert declared Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, was out of order that Monday afternoon in Vermillion.

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GEAR UP is a federal program funded through a grant to the state Department of Education that helps students from lower-income households be aware of academic opportunities after high school graduation.

Among the many names on the University of South Dakota class's map of GEAR UP connections is Margo Heinert, who hasn't been named in any alleged wrongdoing. She is the senator's mother.

GEAR UP was administered through Mid Central Educational Cooperative at Platte until Melody Schopp ended the state department's subcontract. Schopp, who retired Dec. 15 as state education secretary, shifted the subcontract to Black Hills State University.

Jensen had called for the committee to summon current or former state Department of Education officials, former Mid-Central Educational Cooperative personnel or consultants connected to the GEAR UP program.

The legislators met at the University of South Dakota campus to see a map tracking GEAR UP connections among dozens of people.

Among those Jensen specifically wanted to call were Tom Oster, Tamera Darnell, Brinda Kuhn, Keith Moore, Rick Melmer and Kelly Duncan. Nelson challenged Heinert's ruling on Jensen.

Voting for Nelson's argument - that the committee had the power - were Jensen, May, Nelson, Russell and Rep. Steve Livermont, R-Martin.

Voting for Heinert's position were Sen. Kevin Killer, D-Pine Ridge; Rep. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission; Rep. Oren Lesmeister, D-Parade; Rep. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City; and Heinert.

Saying goodbye

The Legislature plans a memorial service Jan. 18 for lawmakers who passed from life during the past year.

One is Tieszen, who drowned Nov. 22. The annual ceremony starts at 3 p.m. in the House chamber.

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