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South Dakota Legislature addresses issues

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PIERRE, S.D. - Frybread may become the South Dakota state bread.

That is just one of many bills introduced in the state legislature that
could have an impact on Indian country.

Frybread as the state bread may seem frivolous, but the legislature had no
problem making German kuchen the state dessert two years ago. The four
American Indian legislators are the signatories to the frybread bill.

The state legislature, which has a record of not approving all legislation
that affects Indian country the first time around, has a new slate of bills
from both houses. But in the past few years there has been a difference in
acceptance of bills; and since there are four legislators from Indian
country, more attention has been paid to legislative issues that may affect
all residents of the state.

A State-Tribal Relations Committee that meets in the interim has been
instrumental in bringing issues and concerns to the table and bringing in
tribal representatives on a regular basis to testify on many issues. The
committee has had more impact over the past four years.


One of the most important issues in the state is how the Department of
Social Services handles children that are in the system. Many tribal
members complain about having grandchildren, nephews and nieces taken from
the family without any chance for adoption. Or, when the family is involved
and is told to go through parenting classes, the children are sent to other
families anyway.

The problem, tribal members argue, is the state does not adhere to the
federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

Two years ago, a state bill that would have required the state to comply
with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act was sidetracked. Republican Gov.
Mike Rounds had that bill scrapped and introduced another that created a
commission to study the child welfare issue. The year-long hearings held by
the commission resulted in a report that recommended the commission's work
be extended for one more year.

Recommendations included creating a position for a statewide ICWA
coordinator and encouraged the Department of Social Services to work with
each tribe, create family specialist teams, recruit American Indian foster
homes and create a statewide ICWA office within state government. A
recommendation for the tribes was to fully staff and fund ICWA offices. A
protocol to transfer cases from state to tribal courts was recommended as

This year's ICWA bill did not mention nor use any of the recommendations
from the ICWA commission. The bill is a straightforward requirement that
the state follow the federal ICWA law. The bill has not yet reached
committee hearing.


Frequent attempts to stop racial profiling in the state had met with
opposition. In the 2004 legislature a law was changed that would not make
it a primary offense to have a dangling object from the rear view mirror.
Just this year, a bill that would require racial and ethnic statistics be
gathered by law enforcement officers was introduced.

Advocates argue that data collection is vital to addressing the problem of
racial profiling. Legislators and law enforcement officials in the state
have denied that any profiling occurred.

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All patrol vehicles in the state have video cameras that record the
proceedings at every stop made by law enforcement. State law enforcement
officials claim that the video cameras will stop any profiling that may
occur and provide a record should someone file a complaint.

The new bill asks for is that data regarding the number of drivers stopped
for routine traffic enforcement be collected by the race or ethnicity of
the driver as perceived by the officer, as well as the alleged violation;
whether a search was conducted; whether the driver, passenger or personal
effects were searched; whether there was any physical evidence of illegal
activity and whether a citation or oral or written warning was issued.

American Indian drivers continually complain they are targeted for
frivolous stops; that background checks are done on all passengers, not
just the driver; and that certain license plate numbers trigger stops by
law enforcement officers. South Dakota identifies each county with a
special number on the license plate.


One of the most contentious issues on reservations is the fact the state
will not allow new nursing facilities to be built. State officials point to
the fact that many nursing facilities have empty beds that should be filled
before any new facility, other than a replacement, is built.

Tribal officials and families continually insist that elders are placed in
nursing facilities that are many miles from the family. Poverty is rampant
on the reservations and it is difficult for many family members to find
enough money to drive great distances to visit with their elder family

The state has asked the legislature to continue the moratorium on new
facilities, which started in 1988. But for tribal members, it's about

In 1993, the legislature made an exception to the law. The Cheyenne River
Sioux Tribe was given license to build a facility on the reservation.
Tribal advocates want to see the exemption granted to all reservations.
That was a pilot, state officials said, and not intended to set a
precedent. The moratorium extension is still under consideration.


In order to help young people pursue employment and learn work etiquette,
legislation that would establish the South Dakota Native American Youth
Conservation Program will be discussed.

Under this program, any tribal member between the ages of 18 - 25 would be
eligible for part- or full-time employment in this program. Language in the
bill would allow the state Department of Labor to enter into a contract
with each tribe. It would therefore be required to specify a number of
openings for each tribe. The tribe in turn would select the participants.


A bill was killed in committee that would have declared any company that
outsources jobs from the state ineligible for state financial incentives.
It also would have helped to keep jobs in the state that American Indian
workers could fill.

The state has entered into agreements with tribes over the collection of
state taxes, mostly sales tax, motor fuel tax, cigarette tax and a
contractor's tax. The tribes, based on population, receive a percentage of
the tax collected on the reservations. A new bill would add some tax areas
to the list. The collection of taxes by the tribes on telephone companies
for electric, heating, water and gas companies, rural water companies and
for pipeline companies are part of the legislation. The tribes collect the
taxes for the state, and the state then reimburses the tribe for a
previously agreed-upon percentage of the tax revenue.

The state and tribes have entered into cooperative agreements over other
taxes that have been accepted favorably and equitably for both entities.