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:
- Two Senators, one from each party.
- 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.
- One county commission member (initiative and referendum do affect local government!).
- One city council member.
- Six members of ballot question committees (at least three having been direct sponsors of ballot measure petitions) over the last three election cycles.
- 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.