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Senate rejects plan for ballot measures, agrees to study process

PIERRE -- State senators rejected legislation Wednesday that would have helped cure flaws in the process for ballot measures. The bill received seven ayes and 28 nays. Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said it would have done two things. It would hav...

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South Dakota State Capitol

PIERRE - State senators rejected legislation Wednesday that would have helped cure flaws in the process for ballot measures.

The bill received seven ayes and 28 nays.

Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said it would have done two things. It would have allowed citizens to submit comments to the secretary of state for publication on the office's internet site, and it also would have allowed the Legislature's Executive Board to conduct two sets of hearings: One before a ballot petition was circulated for signatures; and a second hearing at least 120 days before the election on the ballot measure.

"It is strictly intended as an educational opportunity, an exchange of ideas," Novstrup said.

He stressed that the Executive Board wouldn't have any power to force changes in the ballot measure.

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"The only power they have is to shine the light of sunshine on the issue by asking good questions," Novstrup said.

Sen. Craig Kennedy, D-Yankton, said he was "a little concerned" when he saw the use of hearing in the legislation.

"As I read this bill, these two hearings aren't hearings at all," he said.

Kennedy said he has a problem with spending state money on hearings that he described as two media events.

Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said all he's heard from constituents is to leave the ballot process alone. He urged the legislation's defeat.

Sen. Jeff Partridge, R-Rapid City, also called for the bill's defeat. He said there are expenses involved for putting comments on the secretary of state website and for holding the hearings.

Novstrup in closing said, "I think it's an open government bill." He added that he thinks voters will thank the Legislature for a complete discussion.

"The alternative to this is a 30-second ad. I think we can do better than that," Novstrup said.

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The concept was that changes could be made to correct flaws before a ballot measure was circulated for signatures and placed on the ballot.

Parts of Initiated Measure 22 raised warnings from the Legislative Research Council and state Attorney General Marty Jackley that it might be unconstitutional.

One piece was the funding for Democracy Credits; funding legislation isn't allowed to cover other topics. The second piece was creation of an ethics commission that wasn't attached to any branch of state government.

Voters approved IM 22 in the November election. Republican legislators challenged it in court and received a judge's order in December suspending it from taking effect.

Republican legislators then repealed it last month and have been passing many replacements for its various restrictions on public officials and lobbyists.

Senate to study ballot measure process

State senators generally agreed Wednesday that South Dakota needs a task force to study the ballot measure process.

The vote was 28-7. Because of Senate amendments, the legislation must return to the House of Representatives for a decision whether to agree to the changes.

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The 15-member task force would include six legislators, the attorney general, the secretary of state and seven other members.

They would file a report for use in the 2018 session of the Legislature.

The concept came from Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City.

Senate Republican leader Blake Curd of Sioux Falls said HB 1141 is "a great opportunity to have a lengthened look" before making any changes.

Senate Democratic Leader Billie Sutton, of Burke, offered an amendment broadening the composition of the review panel. Senators approved it on a voice vote.

Sen. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, said there is a need for study. Another senator disagreed.

"I wonder what the problem is that we're trying to address," Sen. Craig Kennedy, D-Yankton, said.

Kennedy said other things should be studied instead such as universal pre-K education and insufficient state funding. He called the study "somewhat insulting."

Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, defended the study as "a way to get at this problem once and for all."

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