S.D. lawmakers take first step in repealing ethics overhaul
South Dakota lawmakers took the first step Monday to repeal an embattled government ethics overhaul approved by voters in November.
The House and Senate State Affairs committees held a joint hearing on the proposal, which the House panel voted to send to the chamber’s floor. The bill would dismantle the initiative that created an ethics commission, public campaign funding and limitations on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.
A little over 51 percent of voters supported the initiative, and backers have criticized the Legislature for working to overturn the result of the election. The bill is a “one-sided attempt to thwart the will of the voters,” said Mitch Richter, a lobbyist for supporters of the ballot measure.
Before the legislative session, a group of two dozen GOP legislators and others challenged the measure’s constitutionality in state court, which put the initiative on hold while the lawsuit moves forward. South Dakotans for Integrity, a political committee that supported the initiative, is asking the state Supreme Court to allow them to join the lawsuit.
“It didn’t take very long for the judge to determine that this is likely unconstitutional,” said Republican House Speaker Mark Mickelson, a bill supporter and plaintiff in the case.
House State Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Rhoden, the bill’s prime sponsor, said it’s important to remember that the citizens of South Dakota have no more right to pass an unconstitutional law than lawmakers do in the Legislature. House Majority Leader Lee Qualm said lawmakers took an oath to uphold the constitution.
“We need to get rid of this as quickly as possible,” he said.
Doug Kronaizl, a spokesman for pro-initiative group Represent South Dakota, said it’s “abundantly clear” voters are opposed to legislative tampering.
The group is a local chapter of Represent.Us. The Massachusetts-based organization works to reduce the influence of money in politics and pumped funding into the South Dakota ballot measure campaign.
The group has spent over $21,000 so far in January. Their efforts include newspaper, radio and online advertisements, mail pieces and telephone calls, according to secretary of state’s office records.
Roxanne Weber, a Pierre resident who supports the measure, said during the hearing that it appears there’s no accountability for lawmakers.
“I won’t forget that, and I know the 180,580 people who voted this measure in, they’re not going to forget that either,” she said.
The bill, which is sponsored by nearly 50 of 70 representatives and 27 out of 35 senators, requires a two-thirds margin in each chamber to pass. Bill opponents say the emergency provisions in the bill would also block it from being referred to the ballot.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard has criticized the campaign to pass the measure as deceptive and said voters were “hoodwinked.” An aide to Daugaard said he supports the bill, which would go into effect immediately if it’s signed into law. Chief of Staff Tony Venhuizen said the governor wants to work with lawmakers this session to come up with a replacement for the initiative.
What various legislators had to say
• Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls: The authors of Initiated Measure 22 were told before it went on the ballot that it was likely unconstitutional.
It “makes a criminal out of most legislators.”
• Rep. Lee Qualm, R-Platte: The emergency status of House Bill 1069 is appropriate. State legislators are called on to uphold the constitution. But they can’t do that when Initiated Measure 22 is unconstitutional.
“It establishes (an ethics) commission that answers to no one. No one in this state.”
• Rep. Susan Wismer, D-Britton: The Legislature would not be in the position of trying to sort through Initiated Measure 22 if it had properly dealt with some of the problems the measure addresses in the past.
Overturning IM22 would be a disservice to South Dakota voters. While opponents claim that it has many problems, there has been no ruling that it’s unconstitutional.
• David Owen, president of chief lobbyist of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry: The Initiated Measure 22 was brilliant, but dishonest. People are upset, but they don’t know why.
• Charlene Lund, Pierre resident, petition circulator: “IM22 passed. Accept the bill. Accept the will of the voters.”
The reason people are upset with the state is because of the Gear Up and EB-5 scandals in recent years. Seven people are dead, and there’s no interest in holding anybody accountable or pursuing the truth.
• Doug Kronaizl, Vermillion resident, petition circulator: The emergency status tied to House Bill 1069 is ridiculous because if it’s approved, it can’t be referred to voters. There are many parts of IM 22 that Judge Mark Barnett had no problem with when he issued an injunction halting its implementation.
The following comment was not made during the hearing, rather around lunch time before the IM22 debate began:
• Sen. Jason Frerichs, D-Wilmot: Republicans can pass House Bill 1069 without any support from Democrats, but I won’t vote for it.
“The voters said they want it … and just the idea of an ethic panel is widely accepted (by both parties).”
A bill to create an ethics panel is very likely.
- South Dakota
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