Tag Archives: South Dakota

Lab-raised endangered dragonflies being released in Illinois

Federally endangered dragonflies that have been raised in a laboratory over the past several years are being released at a forest preserve this week in Illinois, where scientists believe they’ll be a good match with the small population still there.

The Hine’s emerald dragonflies, which for decades were believed to be extinct, were carefully raised at the University of South Dakota over the past four to five years after eggs were collected from a dragonfly in southwestern Wisconsin. Three out of the 20 dragonflies that could be released have already been freed so far this week at a forest preserve near Chicago. No more than 320 of the insects remain in Illinois.

“We are trying to maximize their survivorship in captivity,” said Daniel Soluk, a professor at the University of South Dakota and the project leader. In the wild, he said, not very many dragonfly eggs survive to become adults – perhaps 10 of 1,000. Bringing them into the lab can dramatically increase their chances, so that of the same group maybe 100 or even 200 survive “all the way to where they’d be ready to emerge into adulthood.”

The Hine’s emerald dragonfly was discovered in Ohio, but by the mid-1900s, scientists believed the insect was extinct. That changed when one adult specimen was collected in the Des Plaines River Valley, southwest of Chicago, in 1988. The Hine’s emerald was listed as a federally endangered species in 1995, and it can now be found in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin.

Female dragonflies lay eggs by dropping the tip of their body into shallow water. Immature dragonflies – known as nymphs – typically hatch from the eggs in the spring. Nymphs live in the water for about four years, until they crawl out, shed their skin one last time and emerge as flying adults. The adults live only four to five weeks between June and August.

The eggs for this project were collected from a dragonfly captured in southwestern Wisconsin, Soluk said, because the Hine’s emerald dragonflies in that area have the same diverse genetic composition as the ones found in Illinois.

“You may have lots of numbers, but if they’re genetically almost identical, that means there’s not as much ability to resist something like a disease that comes along or that they just won’t have as much flexibility in terms of quick responses to things like change in conditions,” Soluk said.

Between 80 and 320 Hine’s emerald larvae emerge as flying adults in Illinois every year, said Kristopher Lah, an endangered species coordinator at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chicago Ecological Services Field Office.

For years the environmental group Nature Conservancy has worked to preserve the species in Door County, Wisconsin, where coastal springs and wetlands create a rich habitat for the dragonflies, which catch and eat small flying insects, including mosquitoes, gnats and biting flies.

The effort, says the group’s ecologist Mike Grimm, goes beyond the dragonfly’s role in nature.

“We never hardly ask `Why is the Mona Lisa important?’ We could tear it down, burn it, and would civilization collapse? No,” Grimm said. “But it’s something that we value because it’s beautiful or it has some intrinsic value that we just want to protect. Some species, what is their value? A small butterfly doesn’t really have any economic value and probably could go extinct and we’d never even know it. But I think there’s an obligation to our future generations of people that we try to preserve the Earth in at least as good a condition as we found it.”

Obama visits 49th state, South Dakota awaits

Utah, check. One more state to go for President Barack Obama: South Dakota.

Utah was the 49th state visited by Obama and the latest stop on his recent tour of Republican “red” states.

Since Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in January, Obama has traveled to 10 GOP states:  Arizona, Tennessee, Idaho, Kansas, Indiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Utah, all of which voted for Obama rival Mitt Romney in 2012. Obama also has visited nine states that voted for his re-election.

The White House says there is no concerted effort to put the president in Republican states. “There are really important, substantive reasons that explain the places we go,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

After spending the night in Salt Lake City, Obama appeared on Friday at Hill Air Force Base near Ogden to announce new steps to support military veterans by training them for solar industry jobs. “A lot of our men and women in uniform at some point are going to transition into civilian life and we want to make sure that after they’ve fought for our freedom that they’ve got jobs to come home to,” the president said,

The departments of Energy and Defense are starting a program at 10 military bases nationwide, including at Hill Air Force Base, to teach service members who are transitioning out of the military how to install solar panels.

The Energy Department has committed to training 75,000 people, including veterans, for solar industry jobs by 2020.

In terms of travel, Obama had visited 46 states by the start of the year. The White House quickly scheduled presidential appearances in Idaho and South Carolina — two of the four remaining states — followed by Utah.

South Dakota now has the distinction of being the only state awaiting a presidential visit by Obama. With 21 months left on his term, he has plenty of time to get there.

When he gets to South Dakota, Obama will become the fourth president to hit all 50 states, according to the White House Historical Association.

Richard Nixon was first, followed by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Ronald Reagan came four states short of the goal.

George W. Bush never made it to Vermont.

Federal judge strikes down South Dakota’s ban on same-sex marriage

A federal judge on Jan. 12 declared South Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, but marriage licenses won’t be immediately issued because the ruling was put on hold pending a potential appeal.

U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier sided in favor of the six couples who filed the lawsuit in May in Sioux Falls. The lawsuit challenges a 1996 state law and a voter-approved 2006 constitutional amendment that ban gay marriage.

“Plaintiffs have a fundamental right to marry,” Schreier wrote. “South Dakota law deprives them of that right solely because they are same-sex couples and without sufficient justification.”

Attorney General Marty Jackley on Jan. 12 said the state will appeal the case to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a conservative-leaning federal appeals court that in 2006 affirmed Nebraska’s right to ban same-sex marriages.

“It remains the state’s position that the institution of marriage should be defined by the voters of South Dakota and not the federal courts,” Jackley said.

He said he’s obligated by law to defend both the state constitution and state statutes.

At the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, legal director Sarah Warbelow said, “According to Judge Schreier’s ruling and two dozen others over the last year, there is no justifiable reason to keep these discriminatory marriage bans on the books. The truth is, laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying serve no purpose other than to harm Americans who simply want to protect and provide for themselves and their families. Ultimately the U.S. Constitution does not allow states to continue discriminating against committed and loving gay and lesbian couples.  It’s only a matter of time before the U.S. Supreme Court decides the issue once and for all.”

Two other states – Arkansas and Missouri – already have appealed similar federal district court rulings to the 8th Circuit. This court is generally considered more conservative than others, said Adam Romero, senior counsel in the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. However, Romero warned, judges “from all ideological perspectives” have tended to agree that state marriage bans are unconstitutional since the U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

“While it is impossible to predict what the court will ultimately do, given the large number of judges who have struck down same-sex marriage bans, we can assume that the 8th Circuit will give the marriage bans in this circuit a very, very close scrutiny,” Romero said.

The U.S. Supreme Court again is considering whether to hear a gay marriage case, and more appeals court rulings — especially if they conflict — could increase the likelihood the justices will do so.

In November, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati became the first appellate court to recently uphold state bans on same-sex marriage. Plaintiffs from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee are asking the Supreme Court to reverse that decision. Four other appeals courts — based in Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Richmond, Virginia — have ruled in favor of gay and lesbian couples. Arguments over bans in three Southern states were held last week before a New Orleans-based appellate court.

Romero said that the more cases that are pending at the 8th Circuit will only increase the pressure on that court to issue its ruling. But the court could put the cases on hold if the Supreme Court decides to take on the issue.

Presently, 36 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry, nearly twice as many as just three months ago. 

The South Dakota couples’ attorney, Josh Newville, said this week’s developments represent the last opportunity for the state’s “elected officials to be on the right side of history” by not appealing Schreier’s decision.

“I would say that Attorney General Jackley needs to consider very seriously the amount of money that he’s pouring into this lawsuit on behalf of the state to keep a discriminatory law in place,” Newville said.

Five of the couples have already married in either Iowa, Connecticut or Minnesota. Nancy Rosenbrahn, of Rapid City, married her longtime partner in April in Minneapolis.

“On one hand, this is like the best present ever,” Rosenbrahn said of the decision Monday. “On the other hand, you go back and you say `Well, yeah, it should be a yes,’ because we are no different than anybody else. There is no reason to say we can’t get married. There is no valid reason to do that anymore.”

Teen sues Taco John’s for forcing him to wear a nametag labeled ‘gaytard’

A gay South Dakota teenager has filed a complaint against Taco John’s International restaurant after his manager there forced him to wear a nametag labeled “gaytard.”

The incident occurred while 16-year-old Tyler Brandt was working for Taco John’s store during a June 23 night shift in Yankton, South Dakota. Although Brandt tried to hide offensive nametag from customers, the manager kept loudly referring to him by the slur, humiliating him in front of customers and coworkers, Brandt says in a video posted at http://tacojohnscalledmeagaytard.com/.

As a result, Brandt says he felt that he had no choice but to quit his job.

The ACLU has agreed to represent him in a complaint filed against Taco John’s with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Brandt has also started an online petition demanding an apology from Taco John’s as well as a promise to take a stance against bullying and discrimination. You can sign the pledge here.

North Dakota gay couples sue for marriage equality

Seven same-sex couples in North Dakota filed a lawsuit in federal court on June 6 challenging the state’s constitutional amendment banning marriage equality.

The North Dakota case was filed by Minneapolis attorney Josh Newville, who recently filed a similar case on behalf of six South Dakota couples.

North Dakota had been the last remaining state with a marriage ban and no court case challenging it. There are now 31 states where couples are challenging bans against same-sex marriages in the courts, either at the state or federal level. There are more than 70 marriage equality cases on the dockets, including one likely to go to trial in Wisconsin in August.

So far five federal appeals courts are presiding over 10 marriage equality cases over the coming weeks and months.

And since the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, no state marriage ban has survived a court challenge. 

The filing of this case in North Dakota coincides with the release of new poll results by the Washington Post and ABC News which show that 50 percent of Americans believe that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection clause. Additionally, 56 percent of Americans and 77 percent of those under the age of thirty support marriage rights for same-sex couples.  Today’s results are the latest in an ever-expanding trend showing Americans moving inexorably in the direction of supporting equality for same-sex couples.

In addition to 77 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, marriage equality enjoys broad support from 30- to 39-year-olds — 68 percent. Even 50 percent of those between the ages of 40 and 64 support marriage equality.  During the 2012 presidential election, 84 percent of voters fell into one of these age brackets where there is majority support for marriage equality.   

Among those who say they strongly oppose marriage equality, nearly half say it’s not even “somewhat” important to them. Conversely, only 19 percent of strong marriage equality supporters put such low priority on the issue. In fact, 81 percent of strong supporters say it’s at least “somewhat” important.

Same-sex couples can marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

South Dakota gay couples sue for marriage equality

And then there was one. Six couples filed a federal lawsuit this week seeking to block South Dakota’s gay marriage ban, leaving North Dakota as the only state in the country with an unchallenged law prohibiting same-sex weddings.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Sioux Falls, challenges a 1996 law passed by the Legislature and a voter-approved 2006 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which means such cases are now pending in 30 states with gay marriage bans. The lawsuit also challenges a U.S. provision allowing states not to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

In 19 states and the District of Columbia, gay couples already can wed, with Oregon and Pennsylvania becoming the latest to join the list this week when federal judges struck down their bans and officials decided not to appeal.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said he’s obligated by law to defend the ban and that he believes that voters should decide whether same-sex couples should be able to marry. It’s possible that the U.S. Supreme Court or another federal court could hear another state’s lawsuit first, which would put South Dakota’s case on hold, he said.

“We would be behind several other states,” Jackley said.

He’s among the defendants that also include Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth, Public Safety Secretary Trevor Jones, Pennington County Register of Deeds Donna Mayer and Brown County Register of Deeds Carol Sherman.

Five of the couples already got married in Iowa, Connecticut and Minnesota. The sixth couple was denied a marriage license this week, Newville said.

One of the plaintiffs, Nancy Rosenbrahn, of Rapid City, married her longtime partner in April in Minneapolis. They and some of the other couples in the lawsuit are planning a June 7 wedding reception.

“It’s exciting, and for me it’s a proud moment to be a part of changing history. And I feel the weight of that – that this is going to affect so many people beyond us,” she said.

The lawsuit, filed by Minneapolis attorney Josh Newville, claims three violations that are guaranteed in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: deprivation of equal protection, due process and right to travel.

“The State will incur little to no burden in allowing same-sex couples to marry and in recognizing the lawful marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions on the same terms as different-sex couples, while the hardship to Plaintiffs of being denied due process, equal protection, and privileges or immunities is severe, subjecting them to an irreparable denial of their constitutional rights,” it states.

The complaint seeks a declaration that the statute and constitutional bans are unconstitutional and asks that the defendants be prevented from enforcing the bans and be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize gay marriages from other states. It also seeks reimbursement for lawyers and other costs.

State Rep. Steve Hickey, a Sioux Falls pastor who believes marriage should be restricted to a man and woman, said the legal challenge has been years in the making and was inevitable.

“Christian people ought not to point fingers at the decline in America because we’ve been a part of it,” he said.

“This will probably get decided by one judge. One swing judge will decide this for 300 million people.”

North Dakota voters in 2004 overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Newville said several couples from North Dakota have contacted him about possibly representing them for a legal challenge in that state, which he’s seriously considering.

“What seemed doubtful just a few weeks ago seems possible now,” said Mara Morken Fogarty, a board member of the Pride Collective and Community Center, which provides resources to LGBT people in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Morken Fogarty and her partner were married last August after Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage.

If a challenge is filed in North Dakota, it will be met with staunch opposition, said Tom Freier, the executive director of the North Dakota Family Alliance, which campaigned to bring the measure to the North Dakota ballot in 2004.

“We are very comfortable and confident that the constitutional amendment we have should stand and if for some reason it wouldn’t, I’m very comfortable that our attorney general would appeal that,” he said.

Karyn Hippen, the mayor of Thompson, North Dakota, is that state’s first mayor to join a national coalition of mayors who support same-sex marriage. Although 73 percent of the voters favored the constitutional ban, Hippen said she believes there is support in the state for allowing same-sex marriage.

Suit seeks info on civil rights activist who disappeared from Wounded Knee in ’73

An attorney looking for answers in the 40-year-old disappearance of a black civil rights activist at Wounded Knee, S.D., has filed a lawsuit seeking the FBI’s records.

Michael Kuzma’s Freedom of Information suit follows more than two years of efforts to obtain records relating to Ray Robinson of Selma, Ala., who disappeared in April 1973 and is presumed dead, according to the court filing.

The June 26 suit against the U.S. Justice Department was filed in federal court in Buffalo, N.Y., because Kuzma lives in the city.

Robinson had traveled to South Dakota in 1973 to stand alongside Native Americans who were protesting alleged corruption within the tribal government.

Kuzma said the family and the American people have a right to know what happened to Robinson during the 71-day standoff in which hundreds of American Indian Movement protesters occupied the town. Two Native Americans died and a federal agent was seriously wounded.

Little is known about what happened to Robinson after his arrival. He has been declared dead, but his body has never been found.

“This may sound silly after all these years, but we just want to bury him,” Tamara Kamara, one of his daughters who lives in Michigan, told The Buffalo News in Friday’s edition. “We just want to know he’s gone and have a place to take my children and grandchildren and say this is where he’s buried.”

FBI officials have said the Robinson case remains open.

The lawsuit seeking information about the FBI’s investigation includes a letter from the agency indicating some records have been destroyed.

Follow WiG on Facebook and Twitter.

U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson comes out for marriage equality

U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota, announced on April 8 his support for same-sex couples to marry.

The senator’s statement was brief: “After lengthy consideration, my views have evolved sufficiently to support marriage equality legislation. This position doesn’t require any religious denomination to alter any of its tenets; it simply forbids government from discrimination regarding who can marry whom.”

Johnson is the latest in a wave of Democrats – and two Republicans – in the Senate to announce their support for marraige equality. The endorsements came as two landmark cases on marriage equality – one challenging a state ban and the other challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act – were presented to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The court is expected to issue rulings in June.

There are only three Democrats in the Senate who have not endorsed marriage equality. They are Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Two Republicans in the Senate – Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rob Portman of Ohio – also support marriage equality.

Critics fear South Dakota bill is license to kill abortion providers

Efforts to expand South Dakota’s definition of justifiable homicide to include killings that protect unborn children ran into opposition Feb. 15 when a critic argued that recently added language could provide a “license to kill” abortion providers.

The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, said the measure merely seeks to make self-defense laws consistent with other South Dakota laws that allow murder or manslaughter charges for the death of an unborn child.

“This has nothing to do with abortion. This is a self-defense bill,” Jensen, R-Rapid City, told The Associated Press.

The bill originally sought to allow a pregnant woman to use force to protect her unborn child without being prosecuted for homicide or assault. But in a committee hearing last week, lawmakers broadened the bill to also allow a woman’s relatives to claim justifiable homicide if they killed someone to protect the unborn child.

Rep. Peggy Gibson said that could allow someone to claim self-defense for killing abortion providers, including doctors, nurses and other staff at abortion clinics.

“If this bill passes, in theory it would allow a woman’s father, mother, son, daughter or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman with an abortion. It’s a license to kill abortion providers,” said Gibson, D-Huron.

Gibson also feared that the language in the bill would allow extremists to kill abortion doctors and then claim they did so to protect an unborn child.

That was the defense used by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder, who fatally shot Dr. George Tiller – one of the nation’s few late-term abortion providers – inside a Kansas church in May 2009. Roeder, who is serving life in prison, argued during his murder trial that the shooting was justified because he was saving the lives of unborn children.

Jensen said his proposal wouldn’t allow such defenses. He said self-defense can be used against illegal attacks, not against legal acts such as abortion.

“This provides a defense not only for (the pregnant woman), but also for someone coming to the aid of her unborn child, the defense of her unborn child,” Jensen said.

Jensen said he planned to talk with Attorney General Marty Jackley about the bill’s language.

Under the bill, homicide would be justifiable if committed in the lawful defense of an unborn child or to prevent harm likely to result in the death of an unborn child. The bill was expected to be debated in the South Dakota House on Feb. 16.

Gibson said she planned to propose an amendment making it clear that the measure couldn’t be used as a defense against killing abortion providers.

She also said the bill opens up the possibility that a pregnant woman could kill her boyfriend or husband if they get into a dispute and the man shoves or punchers her.

“It’s an open invitation to allow every domestic dispute involving a pregnant woman to escalate into justifiable homicide,” Gibson said. “If she feels she’s protecting her unborn child, she can shoot him and it’s justifiable.”

Gibson said the bill would essentially justify murder, adding: “We’re taking South Dakota back into the cave age, the Neanderthal age.”


South Dakota won’t use married names on lesbians’ driver’s licenses

Three lesbians legally married in Iowa are petitioning South Dakota courts to legally change their names after the state refused to issue them driver’s licenses in their married names, renewing debate over South Dakota’s ban on same-sex marriages.

Jessica Dybing and Andrea Jorgensen, of Sioux Falls, who changed their surnames to Dybing-Jorgensen, are petitioning in Minnehaha County. Amy Muston of North Sioux City, who took the last name of her partner, Ashley Stabe, has petitioned in Union County. Both petitions are backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Argus Leader reports.

“This is an emerging issue for states that have passed these constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage,” said Robert Doody, executive director of the South Dakota ACLU. “They’re being used to deny people really basic rights.”

The South Dakota Family Policy Council, which pushed for the constitutional amendment passed by South Dakota voters in 2006 that bans and refuses to recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions, said the license denials are proof that state government is taking the amendment seriously.

“Everyone did their job,” Hupke said. “The system worked.”

South Dakota’s Department of Public Safety last year began requiring drivers to provide legal documentation of a name change when applying for a license. A marriage certificate works as proof of a name change for heterosexual couples but not for homosexual couples. State driver’s licensing director Cindy Gerber says the agency sought legal advice from the attorney general’s office on the matter.

“If we get a court-ordered name change, we’d have to accept that,” Gerber said.

Doody said the question is whether the courts will approve such a request. He said the ACLU is involved in similar cases in Georgia and Virginia.

University of South Dakota family law professor Roger Baron said the South Dakota cases will turn on whether judges who evaluate the petitions see them as attempts to validate the marriages.

“This is a powder keg,” he said.

Stabe said her Social Security card and credit cards list her last name as Stabe but her license still reads Muston. That presents problems for such things as loan applications, and Stabe is worried about her ability to board a commercial flight.

“I have to explain myself to everybody,” she said.