South Dakota speed limits rise to 80 mph

The drive to Mount Rushmore can go a little faster now. South Dakota became the latest state to raise the speed limit Wednesday, allowing interstate drivers to travel up to 80 miles per hour. States across the country have been raising their speed limits as lawmakers argue that roads and cars are safer. Idaho, Wyoming and Utah have already raised their limits to 80 mph; on one toll road in Texas, it’s 85. Minnesota, where interstate limits are 70 mph, has started raising speed limits to 60 mph on 340 miles of highways. But auto safety experts warn that with increased speed, comes increased crashes and fatalities. Already nearly one-third of motor vehicle fatalities are speed related, a figure that has remained constant for the past decade or so. South Dakota House Majority Leader Brian Gosch said South Dakota already has good roads, and “with improved car and safety technology … it seemed like a reasonable step.” Most stretches of Interstate 90, which takes travelers from Sioux Falls to the Black Hills, and I-29, which goes to Fargo, already allow drivers to go 75 miles per hour. “It seemed like if I was doing 75, I was getting passed quite a bit,” said Gosch, a Republican from Rapid City who championed the amendment. The higher limit, which garnered little legislative discussion, was folded into a transportation bill signed last month by Gov. Dennis Daugaard that raises the gas tax and vehicle registration fees to pay for road and bridge repairs. Federal traffic safety regulators run crash tests at between 30 and 35 mph. “When you get to speeds of 80 miles an hour, vehicles and safety features aren’t built to protect people,” said Anne McCartt, senior vice president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which runs its own crash test program. The organization estimates that higher speed limits across the country led to 12,545 additional deaths since the end of 1995, when Congress repealed the Continue Reading

Under-21 tobacco sales ban rejected by South Dakota House

Updated 2:59 pm, Wednesday, February 14, 2018 PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota House lawmakers have voted down a bill that would have raised the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. The chamber rejected the bill Wednesday. It hadn't yet gone through the state Senate. Republican Rep. Leslie Heinemann, the sponsor, says it had been predicted to reduce the smoking rate. Lobbyists for stores that sell tobacco have opposed the bill. House Majority Leader Lee Qualm says he couldn't support legislation denying the purchase of a legal product to people otherwise treated as adults. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine, along with many localities, have increased the tobacco age to 21. Continue Reading

South Dakota lawmakers advance under-21 tobacco sales ban

Updated 9:57 am, Tuesday, February 6, 2018 PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota House panel has approved a bill that would raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. The House Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-4 Tuesday to advance the plan to the chamber's floor. Megan Myers, a lobbyist for the American Heart Association in South Dakota, says the state has the opportunity to pass a policy that can save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in health care costs. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine, along with many localities, have increased the tobacco age to 21. Local Channel Now Playing: Now Playing Woman hit during shootout at S.A. gas station San Antonio Express-News Police: Gunman storms into S.A. AutoZone, shoots manager San Antonio Express-News SAPD: Woman shot in neck while trying to run over security guard San Antonio Express-News Man 'suddenly' stabbed by friend at S.A. park, police say San Antonio Express-News Rockets Driving Forward Houston Chronicle San Antonio Police respond to shooting on West Side 21 Pro Video Police responding to shooting at S.A. intersection San Antonio Express-News Man gunned down in driveway at S.A. home, police say San Antonio Express-News SAPD: 2 suspects caught breaking into truck, open fire on owner San Antonio Express-News Galveston PD releases image of 'Little Jacob' Galveston Police Department Lobbyists for stores that sell tobacco opposed the bill. Republican Rep. Tim Rounds, an opponent, says he despises cigarette smoke, but says tobacco use is a choice that adults make. Continue Reading

South Dakota could become first state to repeal Marsy’s Law

James Nord, Associated Press Updated 4:24 pm, Thursday, January 25, 2018 PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Some South Dakota legislators want to repeal a voter-approved constitutional "bill of rights" for crime victims, citing unintended consequences like high costs to counties and protections they say have actually hampered investigations. South Dakota is the first state to seek to repeal "Marsy's Law" of the six that enacted it, said Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for Marsy's Law for All. Montana's Supreme Court recently tossed the constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2016, citing flaws in how it was written. It's named after California college student Marsalee "Marsy" Nicholas, who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend. It has restricted access to some victim information and guarantees victims or their families will be notified about such things as court dates and a perpetrator's release. Some of those things are codified separately in state law. South Dakota House Speaker Mark Mickelson said Thursday that lawmakers would be seeking to strengthen victims' rights provisions already in state law before asking voters to repeal the Marsy's Law constitutional amendment they passed in 2016. LATEST SFGATE VIDEOS Now Playing: Now Playing Immigration Q&A: What's the deal with H-1B visas? San Francisco Chronicle Do you know your California state symbols? Martin do Nascimento New population of red handfish discovered off Tasmanian coast Antonia Cooper/IMAS The San Francisco Chronicle NBA All-Star mock draft San Francisco Chronicle Official trailer: Winchester Lionsgate Hail storm in Petaluma Jan. 25, 2018 Lisa Foot of snow fall on Alpine Meadows Courtesy Alpine Meadows Rainy night on Highway 80 in S.F.: January 24, 2018 Amy Graff The Story of the Burke Junction Railroad NK Media The Story of the Burke Junction Railroad NK Media "We're going to strengthen South Dakota victims' rights," Mickelson said. Continue Reading

Ethics measure approved to be on South Dakota’s 2018 ballot

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Supporters of a constitutional amendment targeting government corruption have turned in enough valid signatures to put the ballot question before South Dakota voters in 2018, the state's chief elections official said Friday. More than 51 percent of voters supported a similar initiative in November 2016, but Republican lawmakers scrubbed it from state law just months later, citing constitutional concerns. If passed, the new constitutional amendment would largely be protected from legislative changes. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs' office said in a statement that the amendment is the first question to be placed on the November 2018 ballot. Measure supporters say it would put the state's voters back in charge. The newly dubbed Constitutional Amendment W would tighten campaign finance and lobbying restrictions. It also would create an independent ethics commission and prevent the Legislature from altering or rejecting laws approved by voters without returning to the ballot. The amendment would replace a voter-imposed ethics overhaul called Initiated Measure 22, the initiative that South Dakota lawmakers repealed this year. The amendment's approval for the ballot comes as some lawmakers have discussed changes that would make it tougher for residents to bypass the statehouse at all. South Dakota, in 1898, became the first state in the nation to adopt citizen initiatives. A proposal from the South Dakota House speaker would ban out-of-state fundraising for initiatives. Another legislative plan would make it harder for constitutional changes to pass at the ballot box. Both would require voter support to take effect. "The political establishment's ongoing effort to undermine and disrespect South Dakota voters is outrageous," Doug Kronaizl, spokesman for pro-amendment group Represent South Dakota, said in a statement. "What began as anger and frustration over the Legislature's brazen repeal of IM-22 has become a rallying point for South Dakotans Continue Reading

Family of 6, including 4 kids, found dead after South Dakota house fire: ‘It’s like a bad dream that we can’t wake up from’

PLATTE, S.D. — A rural South Dakota community is mourning a family of six found dead in the ruins of their burned home, as authorities investigate what one official described as an unusual house fire. Hundreds of people turned out for a memorial service at the Christian Reformed Church on Thursday night to remember Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children. “It’s like a bad dream that we can’t wake up from,” the Rev. Harry Koops told the crowd. “We realize we can’t wake up, and that it is our reality.” Firefighters were called to the Westerhuis home, 3 miles south of Platte, about 5:30 a.m. Thursday after a passerby reported the blaze. Authorities did not immediately name the fire victims, but Platte-Geddes School Superintendent Joel Bailey said local agencies informed him that the family had perished. He said the children killed were Kailey, a third-grader; Jaeci, a fifth-grader; Connor, an eighth-grader; and Michael, a high school sophomore. “Their family was inseparable,” family friend Kristina Sprik told the Argus Leader. “They did everything together.” Local, state and federal officials are investigating the cause of the fire. Investigators aided by cadaver-searching dogs completed their search of the home Friday and recovered the last of six bodies, said Charles Mix County Sheriff Randy Thaler. He said investigators are confident that all the victims have been recovered, but are awaiting autopsy results to positively identify them. He offered no comment on a suspected cause. Platte Fire Chief Rick Gustad told The Daily Republic newspaper that the house was “pretty well destroyed” when firefighters arrived. “It’s not a real common occurrence to have a fully engulfed structure fire on arrival,” Gustad said. It took three dozen firefighters seven hours to extinguish the blaze, authorities said. Continue Reading

6 found dead in South Dakota house fire were fatally shot: officials

The six members of a South Dakota family found dead in the ruins of their burned home were fatally shot, with one death believed to be a suicide, authorities said Monday. The office of South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley issued a statement Monday night saying preliminary autopsy results show all six members of the Westerhuis family died of shotgun wounds. The deaths of Nicole Westerhuis and children Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael have been ruled homicides, the statement said. The manner of death for Scott Westerhuis, Nicole Westerhuis' husband, is suspected suicide, it said. The Charles Mix County Sheriff's Office and state investigators are looking into the circumstances of Scott Westerhuis' death, according to the statement. Interviews, evidence collecting and forensic testing are ongoing. A spokeswoman for Jackley couldn't immediately be reached for questions late Monday. "Based on evidence of foul play continuing to be uncovered, law enforcement remains committed to a complete and thorough investigation," Jackley said in the statement. Firefighters were called to the home near Platte early Thursday morning after a passer-by reported the blaze. The Platte fire chief said the home was "pretty well destroyed" by the time firefighters arrived. "It's not a real common occurrence to have a fully engulfed structure fire on arrival," Chief Rick Gustad said. Authorities did not immediately name the victims, and Jackley's statement Monday did not include their ages. But the Platte-Geddes school superintendent has said Kailey was a third-grader, Jaeci a fifth-grader, Connor an eighth-grader and Michael a high school sophomore. Jackley called the deaths a "tragic loss" that has affected the entire community. About 1,200 people live in Platte, about 110 miles west of Sioux Falls. Scott and Nicole Westerhuis both worked for Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, providing speech, language and Continue Reading

Kristi Noem, congressional hopeful and Tea Party favorite from South Dakota raises $1.1M

Move over Christine O'Donnell. The new Tea Party star — and fund raising machine — is Kristi Noem, a rancher, mother of three and GOP candidate for congress from South Dakota. Noem, 38, who's a state representative and relatively unknown on the national scene, has raised $1.1 million in the last three months — more than any Republican congressional challenger in the U.S. and roughly twice as much as her Democratic incumbent opponent, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, ABC News reported. In their quest to win back control of the House, Republicans have set their sights on Dems like Herseth-Sandlin, who ranks among the top GOP targets in November. And already Noem has been compared by bloggers (with both criticism and praise) to her fellow Tea Party darlings, Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell, for their similar looks, personality, and seemingly quick rise to stardom. Recent surveys indicate the race will be tight. According to a Rasmussen poll released last week, 47% said they would vote for Noem, compared to Herseth Sandlin's 44%. But since there was a 4.5% margin of error, the race remains a tossup. And Noem isn't the only Tea Party favorite with an impressive war chest. Sharron Angle, Nevada's GOP Senate hopeful, raised a whopping $14 million in the past three months—the biggest fundraising quarter for any Senate hopeful this year (excluding those who have tapped into their personal fortunes). Noem also has more cash on hand with $777,000 compared to her opponent's $500,000. And Noem's three-month cash-raising spree is more than what Herseth Sandlin raised in 2006 and 2008 combined. Ken Blanchard, a political science professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen, who also runs a conservative blog, told Sioux Falls newspaper, the Argus Leader, that supporters are losing faith in Herseth Sandlin. "Raising half the funds of a challenger in a race where you're tied or behind in the polls is a very bad sign for an Continue Reading

This ain’t South Dakota! Sen. John Thune’s whacky gun plan completely misses the mark

The senator from the state that kills Wild Bill Hickok every day for tourists says we would be safer with gun-toting yahoos walking around Central Park. Yee-ha! Never mind that there has not been a killing in Central Park since 2002, the victim being struck from behind with a rock. And never mind that a bullet in the back of Hickok's head proved more than a century ago that packing two six-guns is no protection against a coward. Here is what Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday on the Senate floor before his colleagues voted down his plan to let citizens with permits to carry a concealed weapon in one state to carry it in another, including New York: "I say to my colleague from New York that if someone who has a concealed carry permit the State of South Dakota [who] goes to New York and is in Central Park - Central Park is a much safer place," Thune told our Sen. Chuck Schumer on the Senate floor. Thune was responding to Schumer's observation that the measure would allow gun dealers to lug a whole backpack of weapons into the city, even into Central Park. Thune argued that the safest park in the safest of big cities, a park where there has been not been a killing in seven years and where violent crime is down 74%, would be made safer by some wanna-be Wild Bill. Even in our most dangerous days, Central Park was considerably safer than the Deadwood of Hickok's time, when anybody who wanted to carry a gun could and did. This year's killings in South Dakota include the March 15 shooting of Turner County Deputy Sheriff Chad Mechels. He was responding to the farmhouse home of 19-year-old Ethan Johns, who had been fighting with his girlfriend. "If they come over, I'm shooting them," Johns reportedly texted his girlfriend's sister Deadwood-style after being told the police were on the way. Mechels was shot in the arm, and he retreated back to his patrol car. Johns then fired through the windshield, striking the officer in the throat Continue Reading

Tornadoes kill at least 5 in Arkansas, Texas, South Dakota as winds of 125 mph and above wreak havoc (VIDEO)

A band of tornadoes tore through the nation’s middle Sunday, killing at least five people in Texas and Arkansas, including a couple who died saving their baby girl. Between 20 and 25 twisters hammered South Dakota, Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas, according to preliminary reports cited by Greg Carbin of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. More thunderstorms are expected from Texas to the Great Lakes on Monday night as the damaging system moves eastward. The Sunday storms killed a young couple in Nashville, Ark.. Michael and Melissa Mooneyhan died while protecting their 18-month-old daughter inside the family mobile home, family said. The baby survived unharmed. She has been placed in the care of other relatives. "It's a miracle that little girl survived," Howard County Coroner John Gray said. The National Weather Service confirmed that a tornado and winds clocked at 125 mph had struck the small town in southwest Arkansas,meteorologist Travis Washington said. In neighboring Texas, another tornado-laced storm powered through the small town of Van, killing at least two people. First responders confirmed Monday night that they recovered all eight people who had been reported missing earlier in the day, KTVT-TV reported. Retired Garland police detective David Tapley, 60, and his wife Brenda, 62, perished in the severe weather, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph. The two had moved to Van after Tapley stepped down from the force. Both were active members of theVan United Methodist Church, the local paper reported. The twister and 135 to 140 mph winds injured 42 people, four critically, and harmed or wiped out 50 to 100 homes and the schools in the North Texas town, which is about 70 miles east of Dallas, said Chuck Allen, fire marshal and emergency management coordinator for Van Zandt County. "Damages range from completely destroyed homes, damaged homes, to Continue Reading