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Legislature Involves More Home Builders than Ballot Measure Backers in Task Forces

I have previously lamented the Legislature’s failure to include ballot measure organizers on the Initiative and Referendum Task Force that they created with House Bill 1141. Of fifteen members, only one appears to have any experience putting an initiative or referendum on the ballot, and that’s Reynold Nesiba, who is now also a Senator. He’s outnumbered by three legislators—Senator Jim Bolin, Senator Ernie Otten, and Rep. Don Haggar—who have tried to make it harder for citizens to enact ballot measures. None of the eight non-legislators on the panel have sponsored ballot measures; Will Mortenson was involved in last year’s ballot measure campaigns, but only as the SDGOP’s hired gun to defeat Amendment V.

Compare that stacked deck with the folks the Legislature may appoint to the workforce housing interim committee. Of thirteen people initially contacted to possibly join the panel, four are contractors or developers involved in building homes, and one more represents the apartment/rental industry.

I guess when it comes to building things that legislators don’t view as a threat to their power, legislators don’t mind sharing a work table with the builders. But when they turn their attention to ballot measures, a fundamental check on Legislative power, legislators don’t want the builders of ballot measures at the table.


  1. Donald Pay 2017-05-18 08:56

    Almost every “reform” of the initiative and referendum the Legislature has passed since 2000 have made matters worse. This follows the pattern of most things in South Dakota–give the Legislature a chance to fix a problem and they will find a way to make the problem worse. You can’t have these incompetents in charge of “fixing” the people’s process. This committee is a bad joke.

    My idea is that a parallel committee of citizens, including those who have actually gone through the I&R process, constitute itself, hold meetings and come up with legislation. I’d put some legislators on the committee, too, just to show that we are far more interested in being inclusive and fair.

  2. Donald Pay 2017-05-18 10:08

    Linda Lea Viken is a good choice. She was a great help on the mining and solid waste issues, and gave us great political direction. Maybe I’m being too hasty in judging this. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to have a parallel citizen approach.

  3. Donald Pay 2017-05-18 17:21

    I always had a favorable opinion of Abbott, but never thought he was a power to the people guy.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-05-18 20:03

    A shadow task force? That sounds like fun, Donald! At the very least, we need to get the people who would constitute such a task force to come to every meeting of the Legislative task force and make noise. (Polite noise, civil noise, parliamentarily appropriate noise on the record, of course.)

  5. Donald Pay 2017-05-18 22:00

    I would like the committees (both Legislative task force and the citizen committee) to request the LRC to produce a history of the bills introduced on the initiative and referendum from 1984 until this past year, and to link that history with the special interest and lobbyists who supported those bills. What special interests were supporting legislation through those years that was aimed at restricting or bureaucratizing the ballot measure process? Which special interests fought that legislation? Which legislators and which parties have brought these bills?

    It will become pretty evident, I believe, who has been pushing these bills over decades. This has been a part of a decades long strategy to strip the people of their right to initiative and referendum without actually bringing a Constitutional amendment to do that. Every bill brought seems always to be aimed to make the use of the initiative by South Dakota citizens harder. Doing so favors out-of-state interests.

    I challenge the Municipal League representative on the task force to come up with one bill they have supported over four decades that makes it easier for South Dakota citizens to use the initiative and referendum. And the Chamber of Commerce, in my memory, has always favored every piece of legislation that restricts use of ballot measures. The Counties Association has been good and bad on this issue through the years. The Republican Party? Well, there are some great Republicans I worked with who valued ballot measures, but the party as a whole is owned by the special interests who would prefer to the I&R go away. Yet many of their adherence are among the strongest supporters of the I&R. The Farm Bureau has some great members, but the organization often lobbies for bills that are against their members interests, and that includes restrictions to the I&R. You name a special interest with power in the Legislature, and they will be all lined up to find new restrictions to pile on the ones passed since 2000. The Mining Association used to have a lot of power, but they, at least in words, said they supported the people’s right to bring ballot measures, although I’m sure they wanted restrictions that made it more difficult for citizens to use the I&R.

  6. Donald Pay 2017-05-19 14:58

    Here are the only (positive changes that I can think of) to the I&R process over the years.

    (1) In the mid-80s the Legislature decided to absent itself totally from any administrative functions regarding initiatives. At the time putting an initiative on the ballot required a Joint Resolution passed by the Legislature. However, the 1984 Legislature was hesitating on putting on two initiatives, the nuclear freeze initiative and the nuclear waste vote initiative, which would have precipitated a Constitution crisis. Some of the Legislative leaders felt being required to vote “yes” on the Joint Resolution indicate agreement with the particular initiatives. They decided to end this practice. Since most of the administrative function over initiatives was at the Office of the Secretary of State, the administrative function of declaring an initiative on the ballot was made automatic upon the SOS certifying the initiative petitions.

    (2) Because the initiative process was untethered from the Legislature, the date of submission of petitions to the SOS could be different. The submission deadlines were extended out beyond the Legislative session. This made the initiative process much better, as it meant issues could be dealt with in a more timely fashion. It also allowed the Legislature to independently address issues, rather than feel hamstrung by an initiative. This reform was undone in the 2000s with the addition of unneeded bureaucracy into the initiative process.

    (3) The SOS and/or the Board of Elections requested a change from the total number of registered voters to the total votes cast in the Governor’s race in determining the total petition signatures needed to put an initiative or a referendum on the ballot. The reason for this change is that the number of registered voters is ever fluctuating, while the votes cast for Governor was a known number. It was easier to administer and it was much less likely to face a legal challenge.

    (4) In the 2000s, a good change was made in initiative drafting. The ability of initiative sponsors to access the LRC independently was always a problem for correct drafting of initiatives. The services of the LRC were made available to sponsors of initiatives. (The groups I worked with always went through a legislator to get our initiatives drafted.) However, much of the process is now overly bureaucratized, and interferes with the people’s right to initiative.

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