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Six Empty Hoghouse Bills Face Legislature Today; Vote No to Protect Transparency

Ken Santema lists the sixteen bills before the South Dakota Senate today and the thirty-five bills before the House, the last day for bills to pass the second chamber. Among them are six hoghouse vehicles, whose absurdly empty current text I quote in full:

  1. House Bill 1169 and Senate Bill 141: “In case a title affecting medical services or the ordinary operating expenses of South Dakota is needed to accommodate the legislative process, this bill is being introduced to accomplish that purpose.”
  2. House Bill 1170 and Senate Bill 140: “In case a title affecting education or the ordinary operating expenses of South Dakota is needed to accommodate the legislative process, this bill is being introduced to accomplish that purpose.”
  3. House Bill 1171 and Senate Bill 142: “The Legislature shall pursue opportunities to enhance the state.”

These six bills have advanced throughtwo committee hearings and one floor debate with little dissent. Rep. Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown) did join a generally Mugwumpy conservative minority in voting against the shell House bills on the House floor. Now each chamber has a chance to amend and pass these bills and send them to conference committee, where six legislators may craft legislation without any public testimony.

I like the hoghouse rule… mostly because of the name and its uniqueness to South Dakota, but also because I can imagine scenarios in which some unexpected situation or really good idea may arise and justify commandeering and radically amending an existing bill.

But these six hoghouse vehicles affront the public’s right to government transparency. If sponsors Rep. Westra and Senator Lederman have legislation to propose, it should have been on the table by February 3, along with everyone else’s legislation, so the public could read, study, and mobilize in favor or against those bills.

Westra and Lederman haven’t done their homework on time. The Senate and House today should not accept their late work, let alone give them any more extensions. Senators and Representatives should vote on principle to kill these hoghouse vehicle bills and tell Westra and Lederman to try again next year.


  1. Lee Schoenbeck 2015-03-10 07:17

    Couldn’t agree more with you. I voted against these bills because shells like this are anti-open government, if they are allowed to continue as fake bills past cross-over day.

    At some point you owe it to the public to say – not this year. Bills like this won’t have full and fair hearings, when they morph into something else.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-10 07:37

    Thank you, Rep. Schoenbeck. I look forward to your making this case to your colleagues on the House floor today. (You guys start today at 10:00 a.m., right?)

  3. Bill Dithmer 2015-03-10 09:15

    If you really want to change the way things are done in SD a referendum addressing this problem and attachments that dont have anything to do with the bill would pass without any trouble. The only people that wouldn’t like something like that are the ones that abuse the bill writing process.

    The Blindman

  4. Nick Nemec 2015-03-10 09:20

    Lee, while hoghouse bills certainly existed when we served together in the 1990s my memory of them is that the second house would hoghouse, usually in committee possibly on the floor, a real bill passed by the first house. I do not remember this happening in conference committees. Is your memory similar? Has the process changed in 20 years?

    Back then there were “old bulls” serving who had 20+ years of service and wouldn’t look kindly on this kind of abuse of the system.

  5. Bill Fleming 2015-03-10 09:40

    Maybe you could reform this Hoghouse technique by sliding the language into one of these shell bills and passing it without any discussion. Let the process cure itself. ;-)

  6. mike from iowa 2015-03-10 10:04

    Easy Hoss,hoghouses aren’t unique to South Dakota and iowa is still Numero Uno in hogs. “course when you see a map of iowa and South Dakota it appears there be a small funnel shape in SE South Dakota that allows your resources to drain into iowa. iowa is attached to South Dakota’s teat. :)

  7. mike from iowa 2015-03-10 10:13

    OTOH,Blindman-I hope no one goes so far as to abuse the writing Bills that comment here. Treasures-all of them,for sure.

  8. Lee Schoenbeck 2015-03-10 10:28

    Nick, you and I have the same recollection. By 2006 they were introducing blatant shells, and it has gotten worse – shells pass houses!

  9. Donald Pay 2015-03-10 10:29

    I have never been a fan of the hoghouse procedure. I understand legislators want some mechanism to use late in the session to move legislation through, but the hoghouse has almost always come at a cost of transparency and shutting down public debate. I don’t have a problem with it if proper notice and time limits are followed, and public testimony is allowed. Generally, though, transparency and public testimony is what the person doing the hoghousing wants to skirt.

    These empty shell bills are a newer innovation. I’ll say this for them: they have just a little bit more honesty/transparency in being shams than the old way of doing things. It used to be that committees would just move someone’s real bill over to the other house to hoghouse it. There was a feeling that the legislator whose bill was hoghoused in this way was being bullied/punished for voting the “wrong way” or being in the minority. It created some bad feelings. With the one party state, they had to find a way that wouldn’t fracture the caucus like the old way.

  10. Curt 2015-03-10 13:54

    With 2/3 in favor, anything is possible (suspend rules). Party discipline in the majority party allows the majority to do anything at any time. Cool, huh?

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-10 16:16

    Embracing the hoghouse seems akin to the summer-study process Solum, Gosch, et al. seem to be advocating. They don’t want things done with committee hearings; they prefer the backroom, under-the-radar process.

    Legislation doesn’t provide the most effective check on hoghousing. As Curt notes, a supermajority can push through new legislation, suspend the rules, what have you. The best check is the “old bulls” to whom Nick refers, the wise old men and women who enforce order in Pierre. Too bad we appear not to have any left (anyone ready to abandon term limits?).

    Could we write a hoghouse check into the state constitution? Would it be possible to craft a provision that would require hoghoused bills to go back to committee for a public hearing while allowing lesser amendments to pass as they do now?

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-10 16:55

    And look what happens with the hoghouse: After the Senate defeated HB 1195, the smoked-out anti-transgender bill, Rep. Bolin inserted his language into SB 140, one of the hoghouse vehicles before the Senate today. Senator Buhl O’Donnell says the Senate beat back the smokeout 16–19; let’s hope the Senate does the same to the return of Bolin’s bill tomorrow.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-11 13:32

    SB 140 was the only hoghouse vehicle to make the cut. The House tabled the other two before it; the Senate tabled all three on its agenda yesterday

  14. Porter Lansing 2015-03-12 07:44

    … and yet the future is ignored. Nat’l sentiment is strongly opposed to the windfall profits being hoarded by SoDak agriculture. Legislative planning, yet GOP?
    By The Denver Post Editorial Board
    The realization that corn ethanol fuel is a bad deal has been building over the last half-dozen years.
    It’s inefficient. It drives up food costs and competition for arable land. And there is evidence its use has little to no effect on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
    We don’t fault the lawmakers in 2005 who thought it was a good idea to pursue biofuel development. In fact, we were supporters.
    But we would also hope members of both parties are honest enough to admit the ethanol experiment is not turning out as expected.
    Congress should have a conversation about repealing the ethanol mandate. In fact, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, and Republican Sens. Pat Toomey and Jeff Flake have introduced a bill to do just that.
    At the very least, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should continue to issue waivers on the amount of ethanol blended into the transportation fuel supply.
    The development of alternative fuels and renewable energy are important to the nation’s energy future. But long-term support should be contingent upon ideas proving their value, and in this case corn ethanol is falling short.

  15. mike from iowa 2015-03-12 08:25

    I would like to see these bills get hearings around the states before being voted on. Give more people a chance to actually participate in representaive gubmint if they can’t afford to travel to Pierre or that surrender monkey named town in iowa that poses as the capitol..

    Whether or not the people choose to participate is irrelevant to the fact that the gubmint is supposed to work for the people. Wingnuts work to remove the people from the process of democracy.

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