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ALEC dues might not be issue in SD

Ryan Maher

PIERRE -- Remember that controversy from a few months ago, when the Legislature's Executive Board decided to pay for membership dues of lawmakers belonging to the strongly business-oriented American Legislative Exchange Council?

At the time, Democratic legislators made it clear they didn't want memberships purchased for them. Democrats also paid for newspaper ads denouncing the use of public funds for ALEC dues because of the organization's political stances and financial supporters.

Then there was another twist. The Republican chairman of the Executive Board, state Sen. Ryan Maher of Isabel, decided that out-of-state travel by legislators would be reimbursed for only one organization. Lawmakers could choose between the two traditional groups, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Government, and ALEC.

Now another policy is in place. Maher directed the Legislative Research Council to pay for ALEC memberships only if legislators submit vouchers requesting reimbursement. The membership cost is $100 for a two-year term.

Here's the kicker. So far, no legislator has requested ALEC membership reimbursement. That's according to Jim Fry, executive director for the LRC, which is the Legislature's professional, non-partisan staff.

"There have been a number of legislators who have advised this office that they do not want their dues to ALEC paid. Plus, some legislators had already paid personally for this period," Fry said.

He said the process is different for NCSL and CSG, which are national non-partisan organizations whose leaders typically rotate annually between Democrats and Republicans.

For those two organizations, the South Dakota Legislature pays set amounts allowing all legislators and staff to use their services and participate in their governance, according to Fry.

ALEC operates on a different model. ALEC committees include legislators and business members, with a business person and a legislator serving as each panel's leader. ALEC staff often develop model legislation for lawmakers to attempt in their states. Reimbursement for travel by South Dakota legislators to ALEC meetings has varied during the past decade. Sometimes it was allowed, while other times it wasn't, depending on the year. During the budget crisis a few years ago, legislators cut back nearly all out-of-state travel.

This year, the Executive Board began considering resumption of reimbursement for ALEC trips.

When a Democratic legislator, Rep. Kathy Tyler of Big Stone City, said travel payments should be restricted to the organizations in which the Legislature is a member, a Republican legislator, Rep. Betty Olson of Prairie City, called for ALEC memberships to be provided for all legislators.

The board's Republican majority adopted the policy to pay ALEC dues. That was the board's April 23 meeting. The ALEC matter didn't come up again at the two subsequent meetings May 13 and June 10. The board's next meeting is set for Aug. 19.

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