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Legislators in Pierre meet with the South Dakota Newspaper Association

District #27 Representative Mark DeVries, Belvidere, preparing to vote during floor session on January 25. Earlier, he discussed some aspects of this legislature term with reporters from his district.

Governor Mike Rounds told members of the South Dakota Newspaper Association January 25 that he will not support efforts to force small schools to consolidate.

SDNA members were in Pierre for the annual Newspaper Day at the Legislature that has traditionally included a press conference with the governor.

A bill was introduced this session that would make schools consolidate if they had less than 200 students.

"Why is 200 so special," Rounds asked. "What's the difference in the magic of a particular number. I don't see the logic in that."

Consolidation has been an ongoing process in South Dakota since 1925, the governor said. He thinks it works better for individual districts to make that choice, which usually comes after they can't field a football or basketball team. Football and basketball provide good opportunities for young people, Rounds said, but he questioned whether those same young people were losing opportunities because their schools were so small they could not take advanced courses or have the most qualified teachers.

"This should not be a threat," Rounds said. "This should be a way we choose to do business."

Primary school teachers do a good job of teaching a wide range of subjects, Rounds said. But once students reach high school they suffer if they don't have a multitude of opportunities to expand their horizons.

"You've taken away an opportunity a young person should have," Rounds said.

He travels to communities that have small schools, pointing out the things they do well and listing challenges they face. Schools can share resources when they're only a few miles apart, he said. This isn't always as easy as it sounds.

"Is there fear of doing something different than what we do today?" Rounds asked. "You bet there is."

Rounds also discussed plans for the former Homestake Gold Mine in Lead. South Dakota received an $8 million grant from the Great Plains Foundation to pay for the costs of connecting to a high speed broadband Internet network. The network is used by "heavy-duty" researchers to transfer massive amounts of data. That South Dakota could soon be linked to that network would be a benefit, Rounds said.

It's likely that by April the National Science Foundation will decide the location of a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab. South Dakota is in the running with the former Homestake site. Sen. Tim Johnson helped secure $10 million from the federal government to protect the mine and pump water out of it once the NSF makes its decision.

"We're optimistic," Rounds said. "We're excited to get in and get going."

Rounds was asked whether he would support a bill to eliminate open fields. The practice allows Game, Fish and Parks Department officers to enter private land looking for people who are violating the state's hunting and fishing laws. Legislation to do that was tried two years ago. The bill was brought in response to landowner frustration with GF&P officers they thought had abused the open fields doctrine.

Following that session the Legislature created a working group to evaluate the GF&P. That plan has worked, Rounds said.

"I have no intention of taking away the legal ability of law officers of the Game, Fish and Parks," he said. However, Rounds said he told officers they should have "a darned good reason to be on a person's private property." And he said officers have made an effort to get out and meet people in their community. He knows this is happening because he has seen it on his own unscheduled hunts. He has had his license checked four times this last season.

Rep. Larry Rhoden, R-Union Center, said during a separate Newspaper Day press conference, that he anticipates another open fields bill being introduced this year. He supported the measure the last time. My position hasn't changed," he said.

Sen. Dave Knudson, R-Sioux Falls, said he would oppose such a bill. He said he thinks the measure will have a hard time making it to the governor's desk.

Rep. Dale Hargens, D-Miller, was a House sponsor of the last open fields bill, but he's not sure he will support it this year. Officers now have to go through training on how to better communicate with the public. He wants to watch the working group efforts play out. "I think it has been working," he said.