Rep. Nelson bill seeks more posting of lawmakers' votes online
PIERRE -- A state lawmaker who continues to claim a cover-up took place says he will try to require the Legislative Research Council to add a specific type of vote to its bill-status report.
The report is supposed to show the significant actions taken on every piece of legislation. But the LRC doesn't post the outcomes of unsuccessful attempts at smoke-out votes.
A smoke-out is a maneuver in which a legislator can try to revive a bill that has been killed in committee. The legislator must ask the full House of Representatives or the full Senate to order the committee to release the bill.
Under LRC policy, only successful smoke-outs are shown in the bill status report. That's because a bill's status remains unchanged if the smoke-out falls short, according to LRC director Jim Fry.
Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, doesn't agree with that policy.
The first-term lawmaker said he plans to introduce legislation in the 2012 session that would require the posting of all smoke-out votes as part of the bill-status reports on the LRC's Internet site.
All smoke-out votes are recorded in the legislative journals of each day's proceedings.
Nelson's argument is that a bill killed in committee isn't fully dead until there's been a smoke-out vote or the smoke-out deadline has passed.
His months-long battle with Fry over a specific smoke-out vote took center stage at times Tuesday during the proceedings of a special investigation subcommittee.
The three legislators conducting the investigation were assigned to gather information for the Legislature's Executive Board on various disputes involving Nelson and other lawmakers.
Testimony showed Fry didn't follow LRC's policy when he temporarily posted results of an unsuccessful smoke-out vote. Fry did it at Nelson's request.
Fry said he subsequently was told by several LRC staff members that he wasn't following the policy. So Fry had the vote results taken down.
That upset Nelson, who ever since has been battling Fry and the Executive Board's chairman, Rep. Chuck Turbiville, R-Deadwood.
Nelson also wants a one-stop feature added to the LRC site so that any legislator's complete voting record for the year could be easily accessed.
Turbiville said Nelson should take those suggestions to the Legislative Procedure Committee for consideration.
Turbiville eventually directed Fry to stop corresponding with Nelson on those matters, after Fry expressed concern about Nelson's demeanor.
"Things were getting a bit out of hand. That was just my perception," Fry said.
The legislation that sparked Nelson's attempt to have all smoke-out votes shown in the bill-status report was House Bill 1198.
Sponsored by Rep. Manny Steele, R-Sioux Falls, it sought to give local and state officials the clear responsibility to enforce federal immigration laws and to criminalize the transportation, concealment and solicitation of illegal aliens.
The House State Affairs Committee killed the bill 11-2 on Feb. 14. The next afternoon, Steele asked the full House for a smoke-out. Nineteen House members supported Steele's motion, while 48 voted against it.
The name-by-name roll call can be found on the LRC web site in the House Journal for Feb. 15 under the motions and resolutions section. Nelson voted for the smoke-out.
Nelson argued Tuesday that the bill died on the House floor, when the smoke-out failed, rather than in the committee. He said therefore the smoke-out vote should be shown on HB1198's bill-status page.
"That should be a concern to every legislator who voted on that bill," Nelson said.
Fry said he exceeded his authority when he put the unsuccessful smoke-out vote on the bill-status report. "I erred," he said.
House Speaker Val Rausch, R-Big Stone City, said a smoke-out is an attempt to revisit a bill rather than a vote on the bill's content.
Rausch, who as speaker is the chamber's parliamentarian and presiding officer, said a smoke-out merely bring a bill down to the chamber. He said the lawmakers still have to take a second vote whether to place the bill on the calendar for debate on its merits later.
Nelson has also claimed House Republican leaders were conspiring with LRC staff to get advance notice of other legislators' bill drafts. No evidence was presented Tuesday and the three leaders as well as LRC staff denied any such activity took place.
He also wanted LRC to gather information for him on the cost and logistics of installing video cameras in the committee rooms and chambers. He said LRC hasn't given him that data.
And Nelson also questioned why a fiscal note, analyzing a bill's potential cost to the state treasury, contained information about the program's total cost beyond the financial impact of the specific proposal.
The LRC staff member who prepared the fiscal note said she always does that because the Legislature's appropriations committee members always ask the question.
The investigation subcommittee's chairman, Sen. Joni Cutler, R-Sioux Falls, told Nelson the proper venue for the smoke-out matter is the Legislative Procedure Committee.
Nelson indicated he didn't need to take up the matter there. "I've got a bill I will be offering," he said.