Congressional delegation active on rural airports, pistol braces, drug prices

By: - June 17, 2023 1:00 pm
U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, speaks to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 14, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Rep. Johnson's Office)

U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, speaks to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 14, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy of Rep. Johnson’s Office)

Congressional Roundup

This is the latest installment in a series of periodic updates on the activities of South Dakota’s congressional delegation.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, said his amendments to pending legislation could protect three South Dakota cities from about $4 million in air-service fees.

The cities are Pierre, Aberdeen and Watertown. The bill’s original language would have charged the cities’ airports new fees for the next decade to participate in the Essential Air Service program, Johnson said. Essential Air Service airports receive federal funding to ensure air service to rural and small communities. 

A House committee approved the bill Wednesday. It now goes to the full House.

Johnson said he amended the bill to protect the most remote passenger airports from the new expenses. The protections cover EAS airports that are more than 175 driving miles from the nearest medium- or large-hub airport.

“South Dakotans and rural Americans deserve reasonable access to airport travel,” Johnson said afterward in a news release.

The bill is the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act. It’s a five-year reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration programs.

Pistol-brace vote

The House passed a resolution last week expressing disapproval of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms rule making certain types of pistol braces illegal. Johnson supported the resolution.

“This rule from the ATF is gross federal overreach by the Executive Branch to push their anti-Second Amendment agenda,” Johnson said in a news release. 

Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, are sponsors of similar legislation in the Senate that has not received a vote.

The ATF rule reclassifies pistols as short-barreled rifles if they have a stabilizing brace attachment, and also requires registration with the bureau. 

Director Steven Dettelbach explained the logic behind the rule in a January news release, saying, “In the days of Al Capone, Congress said back then that short-barreled rifles and sawed-off shotguns should be subjected to greater legal requirements than most other guns.”

“The reason for that is that short-barreled rifles have the greater capability of long guns, yet are easier to conceal, like a pistol,” Dettelbach added. “But certain so-called stabilizing braces are designed to just attach to pistols, essentially converting them into short-barreled rifles to be fired from the shoulder. Therefore, they must be treated in the same way under the statute.”

Opponents of the rule have said some disabled veterans rely on braces to use their firearms, and they could face jail time, fines and the loss of their firearms if they fail to register pistols with stabilizing braces.

Reservation crime

Thune, Rounds and Johnson sent a letter last week to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. They urged her to direct the Bureau of Indian Affairs to provide additional support for tribal law enforcement agencies in South Dakota “to help combat the spike of violent crime on reservations.”

“While a significant number of tribal communities in South Dakota are dealing with an increase in serious crime, it is important to note the situation on each respective reservation is unique and requires individual attention,” the delegation wrote. “Therefore, we request the BIA closely evaluate tribal crime statistics and work directly with individual tribal leaders to address these threats to public safety.”

The letter did not include any statistics on reservation crime.


Wounded Knee bill gains support

A House committee passed a bill from Johnson last week that would help protect land at the Wounded Knee Massacre site on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The bill now goes to the full House.

Johnson’s bill is the Wounded Knee Massacre Memorial and Sacred Site Act. It deals with 40 acres purchased by the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes in 2022. Johnson has said the land, which was formerly in private ownership, “is believed to be the killing field.” 

The bill would place the land in “restricted fee status.” That differs from other forms of tribal land ownership, including “trust status,” in which the federal government holds land in trust for tribes. Restricted fee status puts ownership directly in tribal hands with a restriction against selling or transferring the land.

The massacre occurred on Dec. 29, 1890, when a force of nearly 500 U.S. soldiers took positions around approximately 350 Miniconjou Lakota people. Soldiers struggled with a man in the camp who refused to give up his gun, it fired into the sky, and chaotic shooting ensued. Fewer than 40 soldiers were killed (some by friendly fire, according to historians), while Native American deaths have been estimated at 200 or 300 or more, depending on the source. 

Opposition to conservation rule

Gov. Kristi Noem testified to a House committee last week against a Bureau of Land Management rule that would allow conservation leases on federal lands. Johnson introduced her to the committee, which conducted a hearing on a bill that would force withdrawal of the rule.

Meanwhile, Thune, Rounds and Johnson sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning urging immediate withdrawal of the rule

The rule would create a conservation leasing system, similar to how the BLM divides land for extractive uses. The rule’s supporters — many Democrats and environmental groups — say it provides an important tool to better manage lands threatened by climate change, without significantly affecting use by ranchers, miners, energy companies or other federal lands users.

Thune, Rounds and Johnson have a different view.

“This new process has the potential to lock away land for more than a decade, keeping out hunters, livestock owners who graze on public lands, and American taxpayers and tourists who want to enjoy the great outdoors,” they wrote.


Outpatient drug discounts

The “340B program” was created by Congress in 1992. The program requires drug manufacturers who participate in Medicaid to provide certain nonprofit health care providers, hospitals and clinics a discount on outpatient drugs. 

Thune joined a group of colleagues last week on the Senate 340B bipartisan working group to send a letter to stakeholders seeking feedback on ways to improve the program. 

“I continue to hear concerns from many of the health care providers in South Dakota about uncertainty in the program,” Thune said.

SEC disclosures

Rounds joined nine Republican colleagues to reintroduce legislation they said would “safeguard public companies from bureaucratic overreach.”

The Mandatory Materiality Requirement Act would only allow the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to impose future disclosure requirements if the information is important for investors’ decisions, Rounds said.

“The heavy hand of government is hampering the growth of our businesses and economy,” Rounds said in a news release. 

The bill targets a rule proposal by the SEC that would require public companies to make climate-related disclosures, including information on greenhouse gas emissions. Rounds said the rule would also require reporting by the companies’ downstream suppliers, such as farmers and ranchers.

“This rule would potentially limit access to capital, discourage new companies from going public and result in onerous reporting requirements that will be borne by farmers and small businesses,” Rounds said.

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