Representative Don Haggar (R-10/Sioux Falls) has made his effort to get legislators in the way of the people’s right to initiate laws a little better, but not much.
Haggar’s House Bill 1130 originally delayed the circulation of initiative petitions with both a 30-day public comment period and an un-deadlined draft review hearing before the Legislature’s Executive Board. The public comment delay was removed in committee: the Secretary of State will still accept and post written comments on initiatives, but circulators don’t have to wait for the end of that 30-day comment period to start circulating. They do, however, still have to wait for the Executive Board to hold its draft review meeting, and HB 1130 still sets no timeframe for the Executive Board to hold that meeting. Legislators could thus impose an indefinite delay on petitioners’ efforts to collect signatures.
That indefinite delay is unacceptable. SDCL 12-13-25 gives the Legislative Research Council fifteen days to review initiative drafts and respond in writing to the sponsors. SDCL 12-13-25.1 gives the Attorney General sixty days to file his title and explanation for an initiative. If the Executive Board wants a role in the initiative process, it should have to follow a clear time limit (closer to LRC’s, since it produces no binding text or ballot language like the AG).
That draft review hearing is still a useless exercise. Once a petition is filed with the Secretary of State, it’s in its final form, ready to circulate. If the Legislature really wants to make itself useful, they should review the initiative draft in tandem with the LRC, before the sponsors craft and file their final language, without introducing any extra delay.
As faint recompense for delaying our right to petition, Haggar Tuesday amended HB 1130 to give petitioners three or four more weeks to circulate their petitions. HB 1130 now would change the deadline for submitting signatures for initiated laws and constitutional amendments from one year before the general election to December 1 of the year before the general election.
The Legislature gets an indefinite delay, takes away a few weeks of good spring and summer petitioning days, and we get 23 to 30 cold, blustery days (minus Thanksgiving) to scramble for final signatures. I’m not thinking that’s a good trade.
Oh, and did you notice that line about taking public comment from registered South Dakota voters only? That restriction applies only to the Secretary of State’s comment period, not the draft review hearing or the election-year public hearing the Executive Board will hold. Still, I can imagine all sorts of South Dakotans who might not be registered to vote but who would have a stake in various proposals, such as teen workers affected by minimum wage proposals, transgender students affected by paranoid conservative attempts to restrict their use of school facilities, and new immigrants affected by proposals dealing with refugees or anything else on the ballot.
Greg Belfrage and Todd Epp think HB 1130’s Legislative intrusion violates the spirit of the initiative process. I told Belfrage and his KELO listeners Friday that the election-year public hearing could be all sorts of fun (and should be expanded to include multiple hearings around the state!), but I need to see three changes to make HB 1130 acceptable:
- Move the Executive Board’s draft review to the beginning of the initiative process, in tandem with the LRC’s fifteen day review period.
- Allow all South Dakotans (and, as long as we identify every commenter by name, address, city, and state, everybody else) to participate in the public comment period.
- Move the deadline for submitting signed initiative petitions to the end of June during the general election year, same as the deadline for referenda.