Lee Strubinger

Politics and Public Policy Reporter

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.

The poll, conducted by the right leaning Public Opinion Strategies, finds that over 70 percent of South Dakotans support medical marijuana. That’s according to David Owen, the chair of the No Way On Amendment A committee. They’re neutral on an initiated measure that legalizes only medical marijuana.

Owen says of those who said they’d vote to legalize recreational marijuana by voting yes on Amendment A, 26% say they’d support it because of marijuana’s medical use.

Owen says that points to confusion between the two ballot measures.

SD Secretary of State

Absentee ballots for registered South Dakota voters are going out Friday

South Dakotan’s have until October 19 to register.

The Secretary of State says don’t wait.

Before the primary election in the spring, all registered voters were sent an absentee ballot request form. That form asked voters what ballots they’d like to receive.

Secretary of State Steve Barnett says voters can double check which box they marked.

South Dakota’s lone representative in the US House is part of a bi-partisan group unveiling a coronavirus relief package amidst stalled congressional negotiations.

The 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats call themselves the Problem Solvers Caucus. Their package includes aid for individuals, unemployment assistance, state and local government money and a new round of paycheck protection plan loans.

Three South Dakota municipalities and a former state highway patrol officer are collectively paying a $440,000 settlement for involuntary catheterizations.

A federal judge is approving the settlement.

The cities of Pierre, Sisseton and Wagner, as well as patrol officer Adam Woxland, will pay damages, legal costs and attorney’s fees.

US District Judge Roberto Lange approved the settlement, which found none of the search warrants obtained by police authorized involuntary catheterization.

Office of Governor Kristi Noem

Highway Patrol investigators performed a blood draw and interviewed Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg following a fatal car-pedestrian crash.

They’re also searching both of Ravnsborg’s cell phones.

One car crash expert says the car will tell part of the story.

SDPB

State legislators are gathering public input about how to spend more than half a billion dollars in remaining federal pandemic relief money.

The Department of Public Safety is identifying the victim in a fatal crash involving South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

Ravnsborg told the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office he thought he had hit a deer.

Officials say 55 year old Joseph Boever died Saturday night in a pedestrian-vehicle crash west of Highmore.

According to the Department of Public Safety, Ravnsborg was driving westbound on US Highway 14, when he struck Boever.

Boever’s body was discovered the next morning.

SDPB

The White House Coronavirus task force reports that South Dakota’s COVID-19 testing is at insufficient levels.
 
It recommends increased testing and that the state aggressively promote mask use and social distancing.
 

Charles Michael Ray

Governor Kristi Noem is blasting a study that finds the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is linked to over 250-thousand coronavirus cases across the country and responsible for 12 billion dollars in public health costs.

One state lawmakers says the study asks a unique question about the impact of the rally.

The study uses anonymized smartphone data from a company called SafeGraph, which found rally goers travelled from all corners of the country to the Black Hills for the 10-day event.

Chad Coppess / SD Department of Tourism

The state will spend up to $5 million in coronavirus relief money to promote visiting and relocating to South Dakota.

It’s called Governor Kristi Noem’s Invitation to South Dakota and features the Black Hills, Badlands and a running herd of bison.

The commercial has already been airing on Fox News for about a week at a cost of $800,000.

The tourism department is using $5 million of the state allocated $1.25 billion to air the commercial on several more networks in the coming days.

Ian Fury is a spokesperson for Governor Noem’s office.

Krystal Schoenbauer / SDPB

The South Dakota State Fair is officially underway, despite the rising number of new COVID 19 cases.

Officials say it’s hard to gauge how many will attend this year’s state fair in Huron.

A typical fair brings in anywhere from 200,000 to 217,000 attendees.

The state fair is one of many large scale events held in the state, despite the global coronavirus pandemic.

From fireworks at Mt. Rushmore to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the Sioux Empire Fair, South Dakota is one of the only state’s in the country bringing together large groups of people.

SDPB

Governor Kristi Noem’s merger of the state Departments of Agriculture and Environment and Natural Resources is being pitched as making state government more efficient.

Not everyone is convinced by the consolidation.

The move comes a few months after Kim Vanneman resigned as head of the Ag department in South Dakota. Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden served as interim secretary.

Now, the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Hunter Roberts, will head up both departments, now called Agriculture and Natural Resources.

SDPB

The state legislature is coming up with a plan to spend coronavirus relief money handed down by the federal government in late March.

Roughly 75 percent of the $1.25 billion the state received is unspent.

Five legislative committees will meet starting the week of September 14th.

Screenshot / Sioux Falls Downtown Rotary

Governor Kristi Noem says she anticipates considering calling a special legislative session to spend more than $900 million in coronavirus stimulus money.

During an interview with the Sioux Falls Downtown Rotary, she says that’s something she might do if the federal government does not extend a December deadline to spend the funds.

The CARES Act gives governors latitude to spend those relief dollars.

Health officials in eight states report COVID-19 cases from people who were at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally earlier this month. Hundreds of thousands of visitors attended - and South Dakota is now doing mass COVID testing for anyone in Sturgis

The state has hosted a couple of the largest public gatherings since the pandemic began. That includes a Mt. Rushmore fireworks show for thousands earlier this summer.

As a reporter, I covered those events. My exposure to the crowds made me wonder what it takes to get a COVID-19 test in South Dakota.

Governor Kristi Noem is defending her comments about several major cities in the US during her speech at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night.

Protests are occurring in several cities across the country in response to several black people getting shot and killed by police.

It was a line she alluded to on her Twitter account earlier this week.

Lee Strubinger

The case against a Lakota organizer who was part of a July roadblock near Mt. Rushmore is heading to trial.
 
Nick Tilsen—the founder of NDN Collective—faces three felony charges and four misdemeanors.
 
Tilsen says he will not consider a plea deal.
 
“Oh no, we’re going to trial,” Tilsen says. “We’re not taking no plea deals. These charges are all unfounded.”
 
Tilsen faces three felony charges. One alleges that he stole a shield from a National Guard soldier. Another charge claims that Guard member was afraid of "bodily injury.”
 

SDPB

There is no long-term mental health care for volunteer first responders in South Dakota.

That’s the message from testifiers speaking to a state legislative committee. They say firefighters, police officers, and EMTs suffer from PTSD.

Tami Haug Davis is a therapist at Key Solutions in Sioux Falls. She says a lot of first responders in South Dakota respond to accidents where they happen to know all of the victims.

Kealey Bultena / SDPB

 

South Dakota parents need to decide whether to send their kids back to the classroom this fall.

Many schools are starting up in the next few weeks after shutting down in April.

Some district officials say their back-to-school plans rely on a number of families choosing remote learning for their kids.

Valeriah Big Eagle isn’t sure what to do. She has three school-aged children; pre-school, elementary, and middle school.

SDPB

State lawmakers are split on the Governor Kristi Noem’s decision to not accept President Trump’s Lost Wages Assistance help.

South Dakota unemployment claims are around three time the amount they were before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Governor Noem says South Dakota is in the fortunate position of not needing to accept unemployment assistance from the feds.

Lee Strubinger / SDPB

Sturgis Rally traffic has been on the rise during the first weekend of the event. The South Dakota Department of Transportation reports about 161,000 vehicles visited Sturgis in the first three days of the rally. That’s down about 4 percent from last year’s numbers. Many at the rally say they’re enjoying a respite from pandemic restrictions in their home state.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Governor Kristi Noem’s office is clarifying her stance on mask wearing among students, after a campaign email last week says she’s encouraging them return to school “without masks.”

A governor’s spokesperson calls the fundraising email “in-artfully written.” They say Noem believes if people want to wear a mask, that is their own prerogative. The spokesperson says she has—and continues—to oppose mandatory masking, but she has never discouraged wearing them.

Senator Mike Rounds and Senate Republicans are pushing for liability protections for businesses in the new federal COVID relief package.

Rounds says it will protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits. Labor organizers say it will greatly impact workers across South Dakota and the country.

The way the proposal reads is that for businesses to get sued, a plaintiff would have to show gross negligence and an intentional desire to cause harm to patrons or employees.

The South Dakota State Medical Association is opposing both cannabis ballot questions.

They’re crafting the opposition statement, which will get featured on the general election ballot.

The state medical association says voting no on the ballot questions maintains that marijuana is a hazardous drug and public health concern. They say the use of marijuana for medical purposes carries safety risks by circumventing the Food and Drug Administration approval process.

NPR

The three major healthcare systems in South Dakota all agree—masks help slow the spread of COVID 19.

Each system requires a mask to enter its hospitals and clinics. They all recommend that people wear a mask in public, especially when social distancing is not possible.

However, there are some political leaders who still aren’t sure.

President Donald Trump has questioned masks. He’s refused to wear them in public, until recently. In fact, now, he occasionally mentions them.

The South Dakota Department of Health is reporting nearly 250 new cases of COVID-19 since Friday.

Just over half of those cases come from Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties. Health officials say they aren’t sure where the surge in cases is coming from.

Seven of the nearly 250 cases come from a Black Hills Christian youth summer camp, which is now closed.

But that’s the only cluster health officials are reporting from over the weekend.

State epidemiologist Josh Clayton says the large increase in cases is a concern.

Lee Strubinger / SDPB

Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender says he’s disappointed with lack of communication from the state Department of Health.

That comes after the state conducted mass testing at the Avantara St. Cloud nursing home facility in Rapid City, without his knowledge.

Since last week, Pennington County has over 100 new COVID-19 cases, half of which came from that facility. That’s more than 1 in 8 total cases the county has had since the pandemic reached South Dakota.

SDPB

Governor Kristi Noem’s state budget managers anticipate a nearly $40 million dollar decrease in anticipated revenue over the course of the current fiscal year.

The state ended the last fiscal year with a $19 million dollar surplus.

Once COVID 19 reached South Dakota, the state cut back on it’s operations.

Liza Clark is the chief financial officer for the state.

She says the $19 million dollar surplus is due to the state reducing it’s spending during the last quarter of the fiscal year and to utilize some CARES Act relief dollars.

The South Dakota Attorney General sent state agents to reservations as part of an investigation into tribal checkpoints on state and federal highways.

Those agents were on fact-finding missions about how the checkpoints were conducted.

That update came during the state-tribal relations committee meeting.

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg says his office did not direct any citizens to go or not go through the checkpoints as part of their investigation.

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