Will IM 22 replacement live up to the promise?
The 2017 legislative session, more than any other in the last couple of decades, was a clear display of just how bad things have become when it comes to politics in our state. It boils down to the majority party’s treatment of the voter-approved ethics overhaul commonly referred to as IM 22.
That initiated measure, approved last November, amounted to the first comprehensive ethics and open government reform law the state had seen in decades. Deeply flawed though it may have been, IM 22 was voters’ only option following years of inaction and two deadly corruption scandals that rocked the state.
The legislature had steadfastly refused over the years to pass anything that would substantially improve South Dakotans’ ability to know who, what and when their politicians are given free stuff. Our state’s record on openness remained dismal at best. And while neither the GEAR UP nor the EB-5 scandals would likely have been prevented by IM 22’s provisions, voters clearly wanted to see some movement on ethics reform both for government bureaucrats and politicians. And they weren’t getting that from the legislature.
After all, why would Republicans want to change anything? As far as they’re concerned, things have been great. They control the legislature and every other elected office too now. Simple math would indicate that reforming ethics rules and opening government likely would hurt only fellow Republicans.
Soon after the November election, a sizable group of legislators filed a lawsuit against IM 22 and declared, absent an official judicial opinion on the matter, that IM 22 was unconstitutional. Within two weeks of being gavelled into their 2017 session, our legislators repealed IM 22 and promised to replace it with laws that would pass the constitutional test.
Some changes actually were made. Legislators are barred from accepting more than $100 worth of gifts. Of course, meals or such things as free travel to conferences hosted by organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings legislators, business people and other interested parties together to do such things as write model legislation.
We’re not saying that taking advantage of educational opportunities is a bad thing. We’re just saying that we’d like to know who pays for your trip, if you don’t pay for it yourself.
In all, around eight IM 22 replacement bills were signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Another government ethics bill, SB 27, came from Attorney General Marty Jackley’s office independent of the IM 22 debacle.
There also will be some new committees for investigating ethics complaints, new changes to campaign finance laws and a new taskforce that will look at further tightening campaign finance laws. These all are good steps but only one of them, SB 27, is likely to have been passed without IM 22 forcing the legislature’s hand.
That it took an initiated measure for South Dakota voters to finally see movement on ethics and openness in government is kind of sad.
- South Dakota
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