South Dakota lawmakers were among the state’s busiest newsmakers in 2017 — as usual — with a range of moves that included rejecting and recasting some of the measures approved by voters just a few months earlier. The doings in Pierre were far from the only big story statewide, though: ABC settled a lawsuit brought by a South Dakota meat producer over so-called “pink slime,” a jury acquitted a consultant who helped an Indian tribe try to develop a marijuana resort, and a fugitive polygamous leader was captured near Yankton.
Here’s a look at some of the top stories of the year:
AT THE CAPITOL
The GOP-controlled Legislature wasn’t entirely happy with a ballot measure approved by voters that created a public campaign finance system, established an ethics panel and tightened lobbying and campaign finance laws. Some argued that voters had been fooled by a deceptive campaign and that the measure had constitutional issues. They passed bills that covered some of the same ground, but supporters of the ethics overhaul said it wasn’t enough — and vowed to be right back at the ballot box in 2018.
The Legislature passed a $1.59 billion budget that was a few million dollars below what Gov. Dennis Daugaard had envisioned with his first draft, after revenues fell a bit short. Lawmakers managed to approve a minor increase for education and added $1 million to the state employee health plan.
Early in the session, GOP Rep. Matthew Wollmann resigned after admitting sexual contact with two interns. Wollman’s departure shined a light on the sometimes chummy ways that legislators and interns interact during the short but intense legislative sessions in Pierre.
Legislators came back briefly in June to create rules governing the use of lakes on private land for recreation, immediately re-opening many waters to outdoor enthusiasts.
DAKOTA ACCESS LINE OPENS UP, AND KEYSTONE LEAKS
The developers of the Dakota Access pipeline finally turned the spigot in March, completing a $3.8 billion project despite months of protests that at one point drew thousands of activists to the Standing Rock reservation on the North Dakota-South Dakota border. Though the pipe now carries oil, opponents continue to try to stop it via the courts.
In November, far away in South Dakota’s Marshall County, an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the Keystone oil pipeline. Federal regulators said a weight installed on the pipeline a decade earlier to stabilize it might have damaged the pipe and its coating. The leak, which didn’t reach water, came shortly before a big vote in Nebraska on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Regulators in that state gave the OK to XL anyway.
SOUTH DAKOTA VS ONLINE RETAIL
South Dakota put itself on the leading edge of a move to collect sales taxes from out-of-state internet retailers. The state is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether retailers can be required to collect the taxes in states where they don’t have a physical presence. It’s a legal fight that has big implications for e-commerce, local retailers, and states that miss out on sales taxes. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia lined up to support South Dakota, which estimates it loses $50 million annually to e-commerce.
PINK SLIME SETTLEMENT
Disney-owned ABC and South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc. locked horns in a South Dakota courtroom over the network’s reports on a beef product that critics dubbed “pink slime.” BPI argued that ABC’s reports amounted to defamation that hurt its operations and cost employee jobs, and sought $1.9 billion. The two sides settled in June for a settlement of $177 million from Disney — and an unknown amount more from insurers.
POLYGAMY LEADER TRIPPED UP AT PAWN SHOP
Polygamous leader Lyle Jeffs, wanted in Utah for an alleged $11 million food stamp fraud, was captured after a year on the run thanks to sharp-eyed pawn shop workers in Yankton. Jeffs had been living out of his truck when he went to River City Treasures and Pawn to sell two pairs of Leatherman pliers — and gave his ID to do it. Though Jeffs had rearranged his name, one of the employees looked him up and realized he was a wanted man. In December, Jeffs was sentenced to nearly five years in prison.
DROUGHT HITS DAKOTAS
South Dakota wasn’t quite as dry as North Dakota, but farmers and cattle producers in both states had to deal with parched conditions that forced some producers to sell off cattle. Some farmers lost winter wheat.
MARIJUANA CONSULTANT CLEARED BY JURY
When the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe wanted to develop a recreational marijuana resort, one of the consultants they brought in was Eric Hagen. While the tribe destroyed their crop and dropped the idea in 2015, Hagen was charged with several marijuana possession charges and faced years in prison. But a jury needed only a couple of hours to clear Hagen of the charges. A colleague who had pleaded guilty earlier wound up having his drug case dismissed after agreeing to pay a fine and court costs.
EAGLE CHOP SHOP
In April, federal officials in Rapid City announced they had busted 15 people for illegally trafficking eagles and other migratory birds after a two-year undercover operation. The indictments portrayed an illicit trade carried out through face-to-face meetings, emails, texts and personal introductions, with eagle heads or wings fetching hundreds of dollars and sellers also sometimes trading goods such as bear claws, buffalo horn caps or animal hides.