PIERRE, S.D. - What was to be a simple bill to add smokeless tobacco to tax compacts between the state and tribes, became a mountainous legislative debate over gaming and sovereignty and could have led to the deterioration of recent reconciliation attempts.
A gaming-related amendment to the tobacco bill was looked at as out of bounds by tribal leaders. The amendment would have made it mandatory for the state's attorney general to sign off on all gaming compacts with the tribe. Tribal leaders, who were blindsided by the amendment came late to the debate, but opposed the amendment at committee hearings.
The amendment remained part of the Senate version of the bill and debate lingered on until the final minutes of the session in conference committee, where a compromise could not be reached and the bill died.
But that was not the end. What this bill and another bill have done to somewhat mended relations between the state and the tribes may be the biggest fallout of this legislative session.
On the house floor, Sen. Tom Van Norman, D-Eagle Butte, and attorney for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, said he had never seen such an assault on tribal sovereignty and called the bill and its amendment "hostile."
The amendment was tacked on to the bill by Sen. Eric Bogue, R-Faith, after it was approved by the governor's office.
In the beginning of his administration, Gov. Mike Rounds opened the door to work with the tribes on a variety of issues and attendance at the state-tribal relations committee suggested a change in relationships had occurred.
Sen. Mike LaPointe, R-Mission, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said the bill and the amendment along with the struggle in both houses of the legislature would send a bad signal.
Tribal leaders wondered aloud how gaming became part of a tax compact bill that would add smokeless tobacco to seven other items on the tax base.
"My government opposes combining the bill that covers gaming and taxation, they are totally unrelated," said J.C. Crawford, chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe.
Rep. Paul Valandra, D-Rosebud, offered an amendment to the bill that would remove the language about gaming and also add an amusement tax to the list.
"S. 28 started out as a proactive tribal tax bill, that was going to add the smokeless tobacco. Section 2 is not germane to gaming compacts. I think to save face and have a workable compromise we should remove this section."
Sen. Mike LaPointe, R-Mission, said he was pleased to see this bill in its original form and know that the parity issue was resolved.
"When I got the amended form of the bill I had to wonder all of a sudden, why for 15 years the governor had the authority to go into these compacts, I had to question the purpose of the amendment, I argued tooth and nail."
The house voted to accept Valandra's amendment and sent the bill back to the Senate without the gaming section. Conference committee members were appointed, but Sen. Bogue changed the Senate conference group after the first meeting and the bill went down because neither side could reach an agreement.
Another bill, H.R. 1227, related to registration of voters, met with some structural change, and an amendment attempted by Rep. Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge failed. Bradford attempted to add judicial officials from the reservations to those people who could witness signatures in addition to notary publics. The bill was written to set the fee a notary public could change for voter registration and to disallow a charge for absentee ballot requests. Bradford's amendment did not pass.
Motor fuel tax collection by the state of South Dakota on reservations is illegal, as established by the South Dakota Supreme Court. But getting the refunds, as required by the court, to those who paid the tax is near impossible. Rep. Valandra tried unsuccessfully to introduce a bill that would send collected taxes over the past 15 months as required by the law, to the tribes for distribution to the members. Brent Wilbur, the governor's lobbyist said the bill indicated that it was an appropriation to the tribe, as well as an opportunity for tribal members to turn in receipts for motor fuel tax, during that period.
To this date only eight people have applied for the refunds. "Give the funds back to the tribes, we know how much gas was sold," Valandra said.
Whitney Meeks, Rosebud, told a House committee that most people on the Rosebud reservation didn't meet the requirement for a refund, because they don't save gas receipts. "The requirement is burdensome and cumbersome and very few people will apply," she said. Two people on the Rosebud Reservation applied, and she was one of them, she said.
The state has entered into motor fuel taxation compacts with four of the tribes for the first time this year. Valandra said in 1992 and 1993 he came to the legislature and asked that tax agreements be arranged, but was turned down.
"Give me more sincerity than this. I talk pocketbook issues with your constituents I would like the same consideration," Valandra said.
Committee members were curious how the tribe would distribute funds and Valandra said the state could impose a restriction. Some committee members agreed that the state will hold the balance of the nearly $4 million if those affected could not produce receipts. But the bill was not acceptable as a means of distribution.
Racial profiling again hit the legislative chambers as it has for the past few years. The only bill somewhat favorable to Indian issues passed amended and has been signed by the governor. Dangling objects from a rear view mirror, such as dream catchers, have been an invitation to stop American Indian drivers, many people have said. For the past two legislative sessions the bill to remove the law from record has failed. This year, Rep. Bradford introduced another bill that would have struck down the law. But, unlike other years, the state Highway Patrol got involved, offered an alternative and the bill passed.
The law will stand, but police officers will not be able to stop a vehicle if a dangling object is present, it is a considered a secondary offense. This will help keep the safety issue while reducing the effects of potential racial profiling, proponents of the bill stated.
A bill to require police officers to log a reason to stop a driver, and not the perceived ethnicity of a driver if any citation or oral or written warning is given or if searches of passengers take place also failed.
Another anti-racial profiling bill would have allowed persons who buy auto license plates to request a different county designation number. In South Dakota counties are designated by a number on the plates and many reservations cover entire counties. The bill failed.