OURS: Lawmakers should fix, not fight, IM 22
The state Senate voted 25-10 to increasee the state sales and use tax from 4 percent to 4.5 percent Tuesday.
If one didn’t know better, you would think the state’s legislative and executive branches are on the verge of collapse due to the passage of Initiated Measure 22, which 180,580 South Dakotans voted for on Nov. 8.
Almost immediately after voters approved the Anti-Corruption Act, the Republican Party considered calling a rare special session to invalidate it. But that idea was rejected in favor of lawsuit that has the potential to be costly for the state’s taxpayers.
Twenty four members of the Legislature, including Sens. Terri Haverly and Phil Jensen of Rapid City, and the Family Heritage Alliance Action lobbying organization have filed suit in a bid to have the measure declared unconstitutional.
The new law is lengthy, complicated and certainly can be improved upon. Its intent, however, is clear: Voters want lobbyists and lawmakers held to a higher standard of accountability.
IM 22 aims to reform South Dakota's campaign finance and lobbying laws, which are considered among the weakest and least transparent in the nation. In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity rated the state 47th in the nation in government transparency and accountability.
In that report, South Dakota state government received failing grades in nine of 13 categories, including lobbying disclosure. In a story by Seth Tupper of the Rapid City Journal, it was reported that lobbyists are only required to disclose their name and employer. They do not have to report how much they spend on gifts, meals and entertainment for the lawmakers they court on behalf of their clients — and they don't.
In that story, Tony Venhuizen, chief of staff for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, dismissed the report by saying, “According to Gallup, South Dakotans’ trust in their state government is among the highest in the nation. That’s why our state hasn’t enacted these measures.”
Since then, state residents have continued to watch two scandals unfold involving millions of dollars — EB-5 and Gear-Up — that certainly played a role in the passage of IM 22.
Republicans who filed the lawsuit seem to be especially concerned about the $100 annual limit on gifts that lawmakers and state officials can receive from those who hire lobbyists, even citing concerns about attending dinners or banquets they have went to in the past. Lawmakers like Senate Republican Leader Blake Curd of Sioux Falls who are employed by companies that hire lobbyists say they may have to resign from the Legislature since they are paid more than a $100 a year by those same employers.
The measure also calls for an independent ethics commission and publicly-funded Democracy Credits, which voters can use to make campaign contributions to candidates who agree to eligibility requirements. The Republicans also oppose these parts of the measure.
But instead of taking this to court and putting the onus on a judge to resolve the matter, the Legislature should work on improving or adding clarity to the measure in the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.
IM 22's proponents have said they are willing to work with the Legislature to improve the new state law. The GOP, however, appears intent on gutting the entire measure and as quickly as possible.
Challenging this measure in the courts will almost certainly be costly to taxpayers. While the lawmakers who have filed the lawsuit won't say who is paying their legal fees, it will be taxpayers paying to defend the measure as Attorney General Marty Jackley is required by law to represent the voters in a case that could languish in the courts for years.
A measure that requires lobbyists to report expenditures, caps gifts to lawmakers, puts limits on campaign contributions, dedicates a small amount of public funds to candidates, and creates an ethics commission will not topple state government or render the Legislature ineffective. It will, however, change the culture and how business is conducted.
If the Republican Party leadership ignores the will of the voters with its court case and dismisses the intent of Initiated Measure 22, it will resurrect the same questions that led to its passage in the first place.
- South Dakota
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