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U.S. Senate GOP blocks bill proclaiming congressional support for abortion access • South Dakota Searchlight

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U.S. Senate GOP blocks bill proclaiming congressional support for abortion access • South Dakota Searchlight


WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate gridlocked over reproductive rights on Wednesday, when Republicans blocked Democrats from advancing a measure that would have expressed support for abortion access.

The failed 49-44 procedural vote was just one in a string of votes Senate Democrats are holding this summer to highlight the differences between the two political parties on contraception, in vitro fertilization and abortion ahead of the November elections.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski were the only Republicans to vote to move the bill toward final passage.

“This is a plain, up-or-down vote on whether you support women being able to make their own reproductive health care decisions,” Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray said during floor debate. “It doesn’t enforce anything. It doesn’t cost anything. It’s actually just a half-page bill, simply saying that women should have the basic freedom to make their own decisions about their health care.”

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Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said that women and their doctors, not politicians, should make decisions about abortion and other reproductive health choices.

“This is our current reality, but it doesn’t have to be our future,” Klobuchar said. “This is a pivotal moment for America: Are we going to move forward and protect freedom, which has long been a hallmark of our nation, or are we going to go further backwards in history — not just to the 1950s but to the 1850s.”

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow urged support for the legislation, saying women should be able to make decisions about their own health care, lives and futures.

“That’s what this vote is about and we’re not going to give up until we have those freedoms fully protected,” Stabenow said.

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No Republican senators spoke during debate on the bill ahead of the vote.

The two-page bill would not have actually changed or provided any nationwide protections for abortion access.

The legislation, if enacted, would have expressed a “sense of Congress” that abortion rights “should be supported” and that the nationwide, constitutional protections for abortion established by Roe v. Wade “should be restored and built upon, moving towards a future where there is reproductive freedom for all.”

The Biden administration released a Statement of Administration Policy earlier in the week, backing the bill.

“Today, more than 20 states have dangerous and extreme abortion bans in effect, some without exceptions for rape or incest,” the statement said. “Women are being denied essential medical care, including during an emergency, or forced to travel thousands of miles out of state for care that would have been available if Roe were still the law of the land. Doctors and nurses are being threatened with jail time.”

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Trio of bills offered, blocked

The blocked procedural vote on Wednesday came just one day after Democrats went to the floor in an attempt to pass three other bills on reproductive rights through the fast-track unanimous consent process.

That involves one senator asking “unanimous consent” to pass legislation. Any one senator can then object, blocking passage of the bill. If no one objects, the bill is passed.

The maneuver is typically used to approve broadly bipartisan measures or for lawmakers to bring attention to legislation without moving it through the time-consuming cloture process that can take weeks in the Senate.

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto on Tuesday tried unsuccessfully to pass her bill, which would have barred the government from preventing travel “to another state to receive or provide reproductive health care that is legal in that state.”

Forty Democratic or independent senators co-sponsored the legislation.

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During brief floor debate, Cortez Masto said the bill “reaffirms that women have a fundamental right to interstate travel and makes it crystal clear that states cannot prosecute women — or anyone who helps them — for going to another state to get the critical reproductive care that they need.”

“Elected officials in states like Tennessee and Texas and Alabama are trying to punish women for leaving their state for reproductive care, as well as anyone who helps them, including their doctors or even their employers,” Cortez Masto said. “Why? Because for these anti-choice politicians, this is about controlling women.”

Mississippi Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith objected to the unanimous consent request, saying that while members of the anti-abortion movement “most certainly do not oppose any individual’s freedom to travel across this great country,” they do have concerns the measure would hinder prosecution of crimes, like human trafficking.

Bill would ‘take us backward,’ Budd says

Republicans blocked a second bill, sponsored by Murray, that would have blocked state governments from preventing, restricting, impeding, or disadvantaging health care providers from providing “reproductive health care services lawful in the state in which the services are to be provided.”

The bill was co-sponsored by 30 Democratic or independent senators.

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“When I talk to abortion providers in Spokane, where they see a lot of patients fleeing restrictive abortion bans from states like Idaho, they are terrified that they could face a lawsuit that will threaten their practice and their livelihood, just for doing their jobs, just for providing care their patients need — care that is, once again, completely legal in my state,” Murray said. “We are talking about people who are following the law and simply want to provide care to their patients. This should be cut-and-dried.”

North Carolina GOP Sen. Ted Budd objected to the request, arguing the bill “would make it easier for unborn life to be ended.”

“The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision brought renewed hope to Americans who believe in the sanctity of each and every life, including life in the womb,” Budd said. “But this bill would take us backward.”

Following Budd’s objection to passing the bill, Murray said his actions “made clear” that GOP lawmakers “have no problem whatsoever with politicians targeting doctors in states like mine, where abortion is legal.”

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“I think that pretty much gives the game away,” Murray added.

Grant program

Democrats also tried to pass legislation from Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin that would have established a federal grant program to bolster the number of health care providers who receive “comprehensive training in abortion care.”

That bill had seven Democratic or independent co-sponsors in the Senate.

“For our top-ranked medical schools, a post-Roe reality sowed chaos as students and their instructors wondered how future doctors in our state would have access to the full slate of training necessary to safely practice obstetrics and gynecology,” Baldwin said.

Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall, an OB-GYN, blocked the request, saying that the federal government “should not be spending taxpayer dollars to encourage medical students and clinicians to take life when their principal duty, their sacred oath, is to protect life and to do no harm from conception to natural death.”

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Repeated attempts throughout 2024

Democrats sought to advance legislation on access to contraception and in vitro fertilization despite the 60-vote legislative filibuster earlier this year, and failed to get the necessary Republican support each time.

In early June, Democrats tried to advance legislation that would have protected “an individual’s ability to access contraceptives” and “a health care provider’s ability to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information related to contraception.”

A week later, Democrats tried again, this time with legislation that would have provided a right for people to access IVF and for doctors to provide that health care without the state or federal government “enacting harmful or unwarranted limitations or requirements.”

Collins and Murkowski were the only Republicans to vote to move the bills toward a final passage vote.

Alabama GOP Sen. Katie Britt attempted to pass an IVF access bill through the unanimous consent process in mid-June, but was unsuccessful.

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That measure, which she co-sponsored with Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, would have blocked a state from receiving Medicaid funding if it prevented IVF.

The legislation, which had three co-sponsors as of Wednesday, didn’t say what would happen to a state’s Medicaid funding if lawmakers or a state court defined life as starting at conception.

That’s what led IVF clinics in Alabama to temporarily shut down earlier this year after the state Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos at IVF clinics constitute children under state law.

The Alabama state legislature has since provided civil and criminal protections for IVF clinics.

 

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National Civics Bee expanding into South Dakota

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National Civics Bee expanding into South Dakota


An annual competition that encourages young Americans to engage in civics and contribute to their communities is expanding into South Dakota.

The National Civics Bee® (the Bee) provides participating middle school students an opportunity to flex their civics knowledge for a chance to win recognition and cash prizes.

Middle school students begin by entering a local essay competition. Judges from the participating community select 20 finalists to participate in a local quiz event testing civics knowledge. The top 3 winners from each competition advance to the South Dakota Chamber’s live event next spring, where they will compete for first, second, and third place prizes.

The first-place winner from each state will advance to a national competition hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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The Bee is co-sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce & Industry.



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Cover shoots for 2024 Pigskin Preview

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Cover shoots for 2024 Pigskin Preview


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) -It has been 244 days since the final whistle sounded in the Dakota Dome and the Lincoln Patriots were crowned 11-Triple-A State Football Champions.

And with 42 days until our first Football Friday of 2024 we can safely start to say it’s football season when it’s time to shoot the cover of the Pigskin Preview!

Our 12 cover kids, 10 from South Dakota, one from Northwest Iowa and one from Southwest Minnesota, came dressed in their gameday best this morning to Howard Wood Field and brought either their blue steel or grins for the cover photo of our upcoming 26th edition.

Those who go on the cover are considered to be among the top senior players in the region so it’s quite an achievement and, since the Preview spans three decades, there is plenty of history that comes with it, be it representing your town or even your own family.

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The magazine with previews of teams throughout South Dakota, Northwest Iowa and Southwest Minnesota will be out later next month and we’ll have details on where you can pick it up in your town on-air and on Dakota News Now.com in the weeks ahead.

Our Pigksin Preview season preview special will air on Dakota News Now on Wednesday, August 21st ahead of the season’s first Football Friday on August 23rd.



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Tribe disbands security task force, cites financial struggles • South Dakota Searchlight

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Tribe disbands security task force, cites financial struggles • South Dakota Searchlight


FORT THOMPSON — The Crow Creek Sioux Tribe has disbanded a security task force formed a year ago after the homicide of a young man in Fort Thompson.

Task force members were not sworn law enforcement officers, but responded to public safety incidents to de-escalate situations and provide aid.

The Crow Creek tribe doesn’t have its own police force. Many of South Dakota’s tribes do have their own police departments, but Crow Creek is among the tribes without one.

Crow Creek Tribal Chairman Peter Lengkeek said the hope was to transition the task force into a federally funded, tribally managed police force. 

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“That was one of the goals of this,” said Lengkeek, who added that the tribe remains interested in moving toward a local force.

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Officers with the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Office of Justice Services provide law enforcement services for Crow Creek and the neighboring Lower Brule Reservation. But Crow Creek leaders have argued that BIA officers aren’t always able to respond to calls in a timely fashion. The tribe declared a state of emergency after the killing of a young man in 2023 and launched its task force. 

Task force members were paid by the tribe and received training from a private security firm headquartered on the Pine Ridge Reservation. 

The dissolution of the task force follows the election of three new members last month to the tribe’s seven-member council. Lengkeek, who retained his seat, confirmed this week that the security task force has been disbanded. 

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In May, Lengkeek told South Dakota Searchlight he’d hoped to be able to fund the force through the tribe’s marijuana dispensary business and its farming operations. But he also said that “we need to get some funding” to keep the force going.

This week, Lengkeek said the endeavor was not fiscally sustainable without federal support.

Lengkeek said he met with the state’s congressional delegation, and “made them well aware of the situation in the state of emergency and asked them to take the state of emergency where it needs to go for consideration and funding.”

“None of this has happened and no communication has come back to the tribe on the status of this,” Lengkeek said.

Congressional reaction

The Department of Interior’s BIA, Lengkeek said, has yet to address the issue. Questions sent by South Dakota Searchlight to the BIA on the matter early this week had not been returned as of Friday.

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Members of the state’s congressional delegation have addressed public safety in tribal areas directly in several forums and formats over the past year.

Republican Rep. Dusty Johnson and Republican Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds asked Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for more public safety funding for tribes in a June 2023 letter. 

Rounds sent another letter to Interior in December, and another to the Government Accountability Office in March, in that case asking a series of pointed questions about budgets and calls for service he said have been left unanswered by Interior. In April, he sent a letter requesting a meeting on a regional BIA law enforcement training center, and he signed on to a bipartisan letter from senators in May asking for a budget increase for tribal public safety.

Also in May, he talked about tribes setting up their own ad hoc security forces during a congressional hearing.

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Peter Lengkeek, left, and Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Chairman Clyde Estes, right, with U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, in November 2023. (Courtesy of Rep. Johnson’s office)

“In response to the police shortages, some residents of tribal communities have even resorted to establishing citizen patrols to look out for crime,” Rounds told Assistant Interior Secretary Bryan Newland during a May oversight hearing by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

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Rep. Johnson had a virtual meeting with Crow Creek leadership last August. A spokesperson for his office pointed out that while the emergency declaration had no specific ask for funding, Johnson has also pushed for a regional law enforcement training center, and has called for a congressional field hearing on tribal land. 

“Tribal communities are desperate for relief … The federal government [should honor] the commitment we made and work to meet the law enforcement needs of Indian Country,” Johnson said in a press release on the field hearing request.

Johnson’s office also referenced letters to the House Interior Appropriations Committee that directly referenced public safety emergency declarations from Crow Creek and the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Backdrop of controversy

The launch of Crow Creek’s task force came about seven months before Gov. Kristi Noem gave a speech to lawmakers linking illegal border crossings to alleged drug cartel activity on reservations. Lengkeek and other tribal leaders pushed back on the speech and Noem’s later comments suggesting that some tribal leaders are “personally benefiting” from a drug cartel presence on their lands.

Yolanda Aguilar, Crow Creek tribal secretary, was a member of the task force and remains a member of the tribe’s suicide response team, a volunteer group that came before the security task force and will continue on in its wake. 

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Aguilar said it’s unfortunate that the task force is over, but said she and other members won’t waste their training. If she sees a situation and she feels that she can help, she doesn’t plan to ignore it. 

“I’m still going to help out,” she said. “It’s about being a good neighbor.”

Jennifer Wounded Knee, who lives near the location of the 2023 homicide that preceded the task force’s creation, said it’s a shame the group has disbanded. Wounded Knee didn’t see it as an adequate replacement for law enforcement, but it helped.

“When they would drive by, people would kind of disperse,” Wounded Knee said.

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Fort Thompson resident Alphonso Drapeau said in the end, the force wasn’t able to move the needle on violence in the community.

“We’ve still got gang violence over here,” Drapeau said.

 

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