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MERCER: Legislators are seeking a fair fight

PIERRE -- The Legislature's desire to gain a better balance of power with the executive branch in South Dakota can be easily achieved.

That is, if lawmakers are willing to put in more time during the nine months outside of legislative session and pay themselves more for working more.

And if they are willing to spend more on more staff, more interns, more research and more communications.

That is a lot of more. The legislative branch of state government holds the power to appropriate, and therefore holds the answer to the challenge.

When lawmakers talk about the executive branch and power, they are really talking about the governor and the vast administration that runs state government day by day.

Much of the administration's powers resulted from the Legislature giving them away. Just as significant, the Legislature doesn't fully and effectively use its powers.

The 105 members of the Legislature can put themselves to much greater use.

They can divide responsibilities and attend all meetings of state boards and commissions, including all rules hearings, and report back to the other lawmakers on a regular basis.

For this they should receive additional pay. A rate of $200 per workday, plus normal legislative expenses, would be fair compensation.

This would help address another issue: Low pay to legislators. They make $6,000 annually. Thirty days of paid non-session work can double that.

This also might encourage candidates for the Legislature who are interested in a higher level of activity during the months outside of session.

The Legislature's interim committees should compile and distribute in-depth reports on their work.

Likewise, reports should be required from legislators who travel to regional and national meetings so the information can be shared among all 105.

The Senate should strengthen its process regarding governor's appointees who require Senate confirmation.

Nominees should be required to appear before committees. Senators should inquire about the recent activities and future direction of the state agency or the board or commission.

This could be done throughout the year, when more time is available, rather than waiting for legislative session. The confirmation hearing report could be submitted to the full Senate for its decision during the session.

The Legislature could require state boards and commissions to meet in the Capitol's legislative committee rooms when the meetings are in Pierre.

This would make the proceedings available live and through digital archives to listeners through the Internet system, similar to legislative hearings, and reduce expenses for boards and commissions.

The state Public Utilities Commission already does this.

The Legislative Research Council needs more staff, starting in the fiscal review sector, and more space.

Expanding the Legislature's internship program to provide opportunities during the nine months outside of session would be another important step.

The off-session interns could be assigned to specific projects. The Legislature could coordinate with the professional faculty at the state universities for specific research and analysis.

The Legislature would benefit from a communications office to assemble and provide a steady flow of reports to the 105 members.

Lawmakers need to publicize legislative achievements.

None of this is beyond the Legislature's ability, if there is the will.