HB 1141 Initiative & Referendum Task Force Still Stacked with I&R Opponents

When House Bill 1141 hit the hopper, I complained that prime sponsor Representative David Lust was picking too many insiders who view ballot measure as a threat to their power to serve on his initiative and referendum task force.

Recognizing that the initiative and referendum process “affects all of us,” Rep. Lust amended HB 1141 to include more people on his I&R task force. His amendment, approved Wednesday in House State Affairs, expands the I&R task force from seven to fifteen. It keeps four Republican legislators and adds two Democrats. It keeps the Secretary of State and Attorney General but removes their voting power. It keeps a seat for the Chamber of Commerce and adds a seat for the Municipal League and the county commissioners’ association. The Speaker of the House now gets to pick a poli-sci prof. The Governor picks one member; the Board of Elections picks two.

So out of thirteen voting members, we have at least eight members—six legislators, one city official, one county official—whose power is inherently challenged by initiative and referendum. We have the Chamber, which has opposed more ballot measures than it supports. Of the four remaining seats, two spots will be filled by Governor Dennis Daugaard and Speaker G. Mark Mickelson, who have dismissed the validity of initiative votes and sought to weaken voter power. Only the Board of Elections offers a reasonable hope of appointing two people who might work hard just to protect initiative and referendum from further Legislative restriction, never mind actually try to expand the people’s power to legislate.

That’s about as bad as the 2015 Blue Ribbon teacher pay panel, which included lots of legislators but only two teachers. What is Pierre’s aversion to loading task forces with people who most directly know whereof they speak?

Recognizing this anti-I&R slant, Representative Spencer Hawley cast the only dissenting vote on HB 1141 Wednesday. He lamented that the task force does not include anyone who has brought forth ballot measures. Rep. Don Haggar, who has openly attacked the initiative process as too easy, poo-pooed Hawley’s concerns, saying that the I&R task force will take public testimony and take all input into “due consideration.”

Rep. Haggar, please understand if I do not share the smug complacency of your comfortable majoritarianism. A task for dealing with direct democracy needs to consist of a majority of people who practice that direct democracy, not more of you legislators who think you know better than us voters.

I still want this task force to happen. I’d love to see a full summer spent holding public discussions around the state about the merits and problems of initiative and referendum. Heck, I’d love to be on this task force, since I bring experience as a ballot measure sponsor, petitioner, advocate, and challenger.

So here’s my amendment for a better, more people-centric task force:

  1. Two Senators, one from each party.
  2. Secretary of State, with voting power. She has to deal with the petitions, so she has to be in the room. Plus, Secretary Krebs has dealt fairly with me in every ballot measure question, so I value her input on this task force.
  3. One county commission member (initiative and referendum do affect local government!).
  4. One city council member.
  5. Six members of ballot question committees (at least three having been direct sponsors of ballot measure petitions) over the last three election cycles.
  6. Six registered voters who, over the last three election cycles, have neither held elected office nor had any organizational or financial association with any ballot question committee.

Seventeen people, a majority consisting of voters and petitioners, with input from elected officials affected by initiative and referendum—that’s the group we need leading the conversation on direct democracy.

Related Constitutional Complication: Rep. Lust might at least want to remove his explicit favoritism to the Chamber of Commerce. Arguably, reserving a task force seat for the Chamber violates Article 3, Section 23, the South Dakota Constitution’s prohibition of “private and special laws”:

The Legislature is prohibited from enacting any private or special laws in the following cases:.. 9. Granting to an individual, association or corporation any special or exclusive privilege, immunity or franchise whatever [SD Const. Art. 3 Sec. 23].

The Chamber is an association. Sitting on the I&R task force is a special privilege. I’d contend HB 1141 thus cannot explicitly give that privilege to that organization or any other.


9 Responses to HB 1141 Initiative & Referendum Task Force Still Stacked with I&R Opponents

  1. Donald Pay

    The problems with the initiative and referendum can be fixed by repealing most of what they added between 2001 to the present. Any other problems can be handled with a simple bill. I’ll write it for free. They don’t need any task force. Instead, they ought to be studying their own corrupt practices and making reforms along the lines of IM 22.

    Really, the Legislature needs to come to terms with some simply facts, the prime one being that the Chamber of Commerce et al. efforts to complicate the process over the last 15 years have screwed up the process and made it more likely to be abused by out-of-state interests. They need to make it easier for citizens, not harder. They need to return to rational deadlines, not extend them out over two years. What nonsense!!!!

    You would think they could figure out that there wouldn’t be as much use of the initiative and referendum if the leaders weren’t totally corrupt and inept.

  2. It seems like Mr. H is pushing to have hisownself elected to this group, as a pusher of these measures initiated, but I think the distance one must keep from pushing measures and supporting their own income through blogging about pushing measures probably makes this a moot point. The legislatures won’t mix these kind of things because they know it would be challenged by a referral. If they put a fellow like me on this group, it would probably be ok, but not a fellow who makes vast money by blogging about them or starting them themselves.

  3. Donald, you and I should be the task force. You’re right—you probably just wrote all they need to know in that comment. We could write it all up, take comments via blog post, and have a report to the Governor by April 1, without having to spend any money on mileage. Ah, electrons!

    Your key point is that making I&R harder for citizens to access increases the relative influence of out-of-state money. Make I&R easier, and the out-of-staters will still come play, but in-state activists will be able to make up a larger portion fo the I&R pie, and we won’t have to appeal to big money as often to overcome the barriers placed in our way by out Legislature.

    Grudz, I invite the Board of Elections to pick both of us and seat us side by side at every public meeting of the task force. Neither of us will make any money, but we’ll lead some spirited conversations.

  4. I agree with you, Cory, and with Don. Trying to continue corrupt practices and justify and/or cover them up is very challenging. As are the extremely messy and clumsy attemts to defy the will of the people and deny them the opportunity to participate in democracy or pass laws when the legislators refuse!

    The dominant party in this state had better realize that we need to restore integrity and honesty in our state government because eventually the lack of it will lead to the destruction of our country! The annals of history bear that out!

  5. I agree with your view of this task force being one-sided and wrong-sided and I also question why the Chamber of Commerce is gifted a seat. I don’t see anything positive coming out of this task force. At best, its a diversion.

  6. Donald Pay

    The Chamber was gifted a seat because they have a 40 year history of support for corruption. Initiatives threaten their chokehold on corrupt power. Simple and Sad!!!!

  7. Donald Pay

    I guess my opinion of task forces was forged by being on one. I was on a task force appointed by George Mickelson. It involved hashing out some revisions to some mining laws/regulations. I found it interesting, but not that productive. We spent some valuable time and taxpayer money because the chairman thought we needed to hammer out a goddam mission statement!!!! Hey, we had legislation directing us. We didn’t need a mission statement. I found it a ridiculous.

    Anyway we eventually came up with some changes, which, weren’t really that effective in dealing with the real problems that were just starting to emerge. I ended up opposing some of what the task force suggested because it was not going to be effective. I submitted a minority report. Ehh. Most of what the task force suggested got passed into law, and had no affect on much of anything except it gave Mickelson some political cover. The fact is much of what we did was subsequently repealed. It was all a public relations effort, and not meant to really deal with the problems developing at the mines.

    My main problem with the task force was that it steadfastly refused to deal with water quality/mine drainage issues. I repeatedly brought this up, and the committee was stacked against any discussion of those issues. These were the issues that were soon to be in the headlines, and resulted in the Brohm Superfund site. We ended up suing to get proper regulation on that, and won, but it was too late. The damage was done.

    Mickelson put together the task force because we brought initiative after initiative on the issue and we had a lot of Republican support. But it was not an effort to solve an issue. It was meant to paper it over.

  8. Donald, I usually don’t have much faith in these task forces. But if this one happens, I want to be there to at least restrain any impulses to tear down I&R. Ideally, this task force could be used to mobilize a statewide conversation about I&R and voter participation.

  9. Donald Pay

    Yeah, Cory, I agree. I always support the “doing everything” approach to politics and legislation. And task forces always benefit from people who actually know something about the subject being on them. Who knows? Maybe something good would come out of it.