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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Feb. 10, 2016

A major question exists on how to correct South Dakota's drunken driving laws. But a proposal issued by an independent federal agency that has resurfaced in the news is not the answer.

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending the legal blood-alcohol content to drive in the United States should be dropped from .08 to .05.

The recommendation is part of NTSB's Most Wanted List, which identifies 10 recommendations to improve transportation safety.

An official with NTSB says multiple studies have shown that drivers' coordination deteriorates noticeably at .05 percent blood-alcohol content, and more than 100 countries have adopted a legal limit of .05 or lower.

Intriguing as it is, lowering the legal blood-alcohol content level won't make our roads any safer. People will always test the limits with drinking and driving, no matter the laws.

And, those who choose to get behind the wheel after drinking are doing so well beyond the legal limits already.

According to statistics provided by the Mitchell Department of Public Safety, Mitchell police made 87 DUI arrests in 2015. The average blood-alcohol content from those incidents was more than twice the legal limit at 0.168, according to Mitchell Chief of Public Safety Lyndon Overweg.

Notable fatal car crashes involving alcohol in the Mitchell region also back up the claim.

In March 2012, Michael Sedlmeier was found to be at .206 at the time of the crash that killed young Iszabella Morgan.

Ronald Fischer was at .232 percent when he ran through a stop sign and crashed into and killed two U.S. Fish and Wildlife service employees near Lake Andes.

Last year, Ryan McManus had a .321 BAC, according to a toxicology report, after he crashed his car during an early March morning. He was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene.

In September, Karla Martinez's BAC was .148 during a crash west of Mitchell that killed 14-year-old Lenard Boyer, a front-seat passenger in her vehicle.

In those instances, the driver of each vehicle didn't care about the law. They were each well beyond the limit, but didn't consider the dangers of their actions.

So while we're pleased to see an organization making an attempt at DUI reform, this proposal missed the point.

In each of the aforementioned fatal car crashes, the driver of the vehicle already had at least two drunken driving convictions when the fatal crash occurred. If you do it once_or twice_and get away with it, you're probably only going to get worse, not better.

That's why DUI reform, we believe, needs to come by harsher penalties for repeat offenders, and not by lowering the legal blood-alcohol content level.


Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Feb. 11, 2016

The decision by the Rapid City Police Department to include reports of domestic violence on its daily crime log is an important milestone even as it reveals a growing problem in our community.

Until this week, the department did not distinguish between domestic violence and other assaults on a daily basis in Rapid City when it released its crime log to the media, which made it impossible to know if we had a serious problem behind closed doors.

However, after a year of discussions between Mayor Steve Allender, Police Chief Karl Jegeris, victims' advocates and the media, including the Rapid City Journal, the department announced its change in policy earlier this week.

As a result of the decision, we have learned that reported incidents of domestic violence are skyrocketing in Rapid City. The number of cases has risen from 974 in 2013 to 1,257 in 2015. Of those 2015 cases, 42 led to felony assault charges, while 189 were for violation of protection orders.

Assistant Chief of Police Don Hedrick told the Journal that the department is hoping by releasing this information it will raise awareness of the problem and get the public more involved in either stopping or preventing it.

"If people are aware that it's a problem, they might be more likely to call. Typically these cycles of violence aren't broken unless we're there to intervene," he said.

The nonprofit Working Against Violence Inc., or WAVI, also supports the new policy as a way to raise awareness of the magnitude of this crime in our area.

It's important to note that the new policy does not further jeopardize or expose a victim of this crime as neither their names nor the offenders' names will be included in the police log.

Now that the police department has decided to make this important information public, the community can begin addressing the issue of domestic violence in a more comprehensive manner and with a far better sense of how pervasive this problem has become in Rapid City.

We need to do all we can to protect children, women and men from the nightmare of domestic abuse. The police department deserves credit for taking this critical step that lets victims know they are not alone and that help is available in our community. It also sends the message that no one should hesitate to report an incident of domestic abuse. In fact, it is our duty as citizens to do so.

Now, we ask that the department begin to release information on the two other sets of information they regularly keep from public view: daily reports of sexual assaults and juvenile crime.


The American News, Aberdeen, Feb. 7, 2016

Census numbers from 2010 bear out what we all suspect — South Dakota's population is aging.

According to U.S. Census projections and the federal Administration on Aging, "The proportion of South Dakota's population that is over 60 is growing while the proportion that is under 60 is shrinking. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 27 percent of South Dakota's population will be over age 60 by the year 2030, an increase of 38 percent from 2012."

More protections will be needed for our most senior South Dakotans — which will include many of us in the coming years.

State Sen. David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, has taken the lead on some of those important protections.

Novstrup is the sponsor of Senate Bill 54, which creates new penalties for what is known as elder abuse.

The abuse, as Novstrup has learned, can take many forms. When one hears the word "abuse," images of physical or emotional damage come to mind.

What was made clear from a task force on this issue is that financial abuse is one of the key ways older Americans are victimized.

It's a shame, because the abuse often comes from those closest to the victims — the kids they raised and took care of, who now may have responsibilities for taking care of their parents as they age.

"Some people have described elder abuse as hiding in plain sight or a silent crisis," Novstrup said for a story last week.

Much information can be gleaned from the National Center on Elder Abuse, a division of the Administration on Aging.

"Signs of elder abuse may be missed by professionals working with older Americans because of lack of training on detecting abuse," according to information on center's website. "The elderly may be reluctant to report abuse themselves because of fear of retaliation, lack of physical and/or cognitive ability to report, or because they don't want to get the abuser (90 percent of whom are family members) in trouble."

That creates a cycle of dependency and victimization.

From the South Dakota task force's 16 recommendations, 10 are included in the current legislative package. The measure passed through the state Senate last week 35-0, and now heads to the House.

Reporter Bob Mercer last week noted that one of the changes calls for emotional abuse to be classified as a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Putting definition and new penalties to these crimes can help authorities, but can also help citizens better spot abuse. There is a demystifying element that can come from the state saying, "This behavior is not tolerated."

Sen. Novstrup deserves credit for being a strong advocate for this area of study, and for shepherding this legislation with his colleagues.

This is commonsense work with longterm potential to protect, and preserve dignity, for all South Dakotans.

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