The Legislature’s interim task force on initiative and referendum meets again next week Wednesday, July 19. According to the I&R task force’s newly posted agenda, the committee will convene at 10 a.m. Central in Pierre (Room 413 in the Capitol, same as the June meetings) to consider bill drafts. The I&R task force will take public testimony (this time limited to five minutes per speaker) from 1:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., followed by more committee discussion and planning for future meetings.
The I&R task force documents webpage includes seven bill drafts in response to requests committee members made after just the first few hours of testimony last month. The best of the first six drafts posted so far are trivial; the majority are anti-voter delay and obstruction:
- Draft #1 extends the LRC review period for proposed initiatives from 15 days to 15 week days. Without a commensurate shortening of the Attorney General’s review period or an extension of the petition submission deadline, this measure takes away valuable petitioning time from initiative sponsors.
- Draft #2 makes the LRC review period proportionate to the word count of an initiative. Proportionate review time unfairly punishes initiators who may propose simple measures which require striking lots of existing language or inserting one short phrase in two or three otherwise lengthy statutes. Perversely, it also means that sponsors who bring complicated measures that may require more time for public explanation will have less time to petition and make their case to the public.
- Draft #3 allows the LRC to delay reviewing any ballot measures until after the end of the Legislative Session, conceivably robbing circulators of three months of their twelve-month circulation period.
- Draft #4 is non-harmful, directing LRC to include in its written response to initiative sponsors “assistance regarding the substantive content of the initiated measure or initiated amendment in order to minimize any conflict with existing law and to ensure the measure’s or amendment’s effective administration.” This language seems to codify help that I’ve already seen in some LRC responses.
- Draft #5 limits the number of initiatives and referenda we citizens can place on the ballot. Those limited spots would go to the fastest-acting ballot question committees, providing an easy way for wealthy billionaires and PACs to crowd grassroots citizens off the ballot. No, no, no.
- Draft #6 spells out in statute the Board of Election’s power to dictate font and paper size for petitions. Given that statute already grants the Board of Elections the power to make rules for the form of petitions, this proposal is at best redundant. At worst, it may be a back-door length limit: if the Board of Elections said a petition had to be a single 8.5″x11″ sheet, printed front and back, and use 12-point, single-spaced font, after adding all of the required instructions, A.G. explanation, signature grid, and circulator and notary oaths, sponsors would have room for maybe 800 words of their own initiative language. In a separate research response, LRC says no state limits the size or length of a ballot measure. South Dakota should not lead that way. Legislators face no restrictions on the size of their bills; neither should citizens.
- The final item is not a draft but a copy of the Oregon statute authorizing a Citizens’ Initiative Review Commission. It is the only clear, substantial improvement in the initiative process, creating a citizen panel to conduct public hearings on each initiative and prepare pro/con statements for the voters. It’s a great idea for increased public discussion of ballot measures that puts proponents and opponents on an equal footing. It will also empower voters and cost money (reimbursement for panelists and trained moderators), so the Republican Legislature will kill it.
So far, the score is one measure (#4) to help initiative sponsors, one measure (#7) to help voters get more information, and five measures to put more limits on voters’ ability to exercise direct democracy.
But that dismal score could change: with nine days until the initiative and referendum task force convenes, more bill drafts could pop onto the agenda before that July 19 meeting!