My subcomplaint about the new travel reimbursement for legislators spectating at interim committee hearings is that the subsidy was approved at last week’s Executive Board meeting without any notice in the public agenda.
My subcomplaint is invalid. As Legislative Research Council director Jason Hancock reminds me in an e-mail, authority over Legislative travel reimbursements does not rest with the Executive Board. It rests solely with the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro-Tempore.
SDCL 2-9-4 defines the powers of the Executive Board. In 2015, the Legislature amended those powers with House Bill 1145, whose main intent was to give legislators another $123 for attending the Governor’s budget address but which also added this duty to the E-Board’s docket:
(9) Allocate funds to the House of Representatives and the Senate to pay for out-of-state travel and salary or per diem costs incurred by members, and to pay for in-state travel and salary or per diem costs incurred by members, excluding costs associated with any legislative session. The Legislative Research Council shall make payments to representatives for costs and travel approved by the speaker of the House of Representatives, from the funds allocated to the House of Representatives, and shall make payments to senators for costs and travel approved by the president pro tempore of the Senate, from the funds allocated to the Senate. No funds may be paid beyond the amounts allocated to each body [emphasis mine; 2015 HB 1145, Section 3, as engrossed 2015.03.04].
In 2016, House Bill 1238 added a clause allowing appeals of the Speaker’s and the Pro-Tem’s travel reimbursement decisions to the Executive Board as a whole.
When Rep. Elizabeth May wrote to President Pro-Tem Brock Greenfield asking for reimbursement for traveling to watch hearings of committees of which she is not part, she was not asking for action by the E-Board. When PPT Greenfield read that request aloud at the end of the August 28 E-Board meeting and discussed it with Speaker G. Mark Mickelson, he was not seeking and did not need a vote by the E-Board. Once the E-Board allocates funds, the Speaker and the Pro-Tem have full authority to dish that money out however they see fit, until they run out or until someone appeals.
May’s spectator pay is a new policy, but not a new policy of the E-Board requiring placement on the public agenda. May’s spectator pay is a new policy adopted entirely at the discretion of Speaker Mickelson and President Pro-Tem Greenfield, two fiscally conservative Republicans who are exercising their power to spend more taxpayer dollars on perks for their colleagues.
By the way, as worded, SDCL 2-9-4 appears to grant the Speaker and the Pro-Tem power to give themselves money for their travels. A system under which one official can approve a payment to himself, without any initial check or countersigner, is a bad system. Yet in 2015, the only member of the House who voted against giving their Speaker such power was Lance Russell.