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I&R Task Force Approves Mostly Bad Reforms, Rejects More Time and Protection for Initiatives

The Legislature’s interim task force on initiative and referendum met yesterday and, taking no further public input, approved nine of its twenty draft proposals for changing how South Dakota conducts direct democracy.

Senator Reynold Nesiba lists the proposals that passed, “some of them in significantly amended form,” as Drafts 77, 81, 82, 83, 84, 96, 97, 99, and 100. As currently listed on the LRC website, those proposals would do the following:

  • 77: Take away the ability of petition sponsors to determine their petition size and font size and give that power to the Board of Elections.
  • 81: Take away the power of the majority to amend the state constitution and raise the threshold of passage to 55%.
  • 82: Take away the exemption of initiatives circulating prior to July 1, 2017, from the fiscal-note requirement.
  • 83: Take away linguistic accuracy and the default-No advantage referendum sponsors currently enjoy by changing the ballot to make voting “Yes” mean repeal and voting “No” mean keep a referred law in effect.
  • 84: Take away the arbitrary power of the Code Commission to resolve conflicts between approved ballot measures and instead resolve conflicts by enacting the measure that receives the most affirmative votes.
  • 96: Take away the option of submitting an initiative proposal for LRC review more than 30 months before the general election.
  • 97: Take away up to three months of petition circulation time by allowing LRC to withhold its review of initiative petitions received between December 1 and the adjournment of the regular Legislative Session at the end of March.
  • 99: Take away resources and convenience from ballot question sponsors by requiring the printing and distribution of tens of thousands of copies of the full text of each initiated measure and amendment (in return for the smaller and legally questionable convenience of not printing the full text on the petition).
  • 100: Take away the requirement that ballot question sponsors request a fiscal note and instead let the LRC director automatically produce the fiscal note if the LRC director can identify a fiscal impact from an initiative.

The only proposal that clearly benefits voters is Draft #84, which puts the resolution of conflicting initiatives entirely in the voters’ hands.

There is some debatable good in Draft #83, flipping the Yes/No effect of votes on referenda. When I campaigned to block by referendum the youth minimum wage and the Incumbent Protection Plan in 2016, some voters found it confusing that doing what we wanted—stopping the Legislature’s assaults on voters—meant voting No. If voters treat “refer” and “repeal” as synonyms, then it may sound more logical to say, “Support the referendum! Vote No!”

While I understand proposer Will Mortenson’s logic, Draft #83 actually introduces linguistic inaccuracy into referendum law and onto the ballot. Saying “Vote ‘Yes’ to repeal the Act of the Legislature” incorrectly assumes the Act is valid and must be repealed when in fact the referendum process stops the law from taking effect. There is no law to repeal when voters go to the polls. Draft #83’s “No” language—”Vote ‘No’ to allow the Act of the Legislature to become law”—recognizes that fact. Draft #83 makes a “No” an affirmative act. For every voter this change may help, Draft #83 may confuse another voter. In 2016, voters seemed to have no problem translating their clear distaste for the Legislature’s attack on our minimum wage initiative and on voter rights into 70%+ No votes; there thus seems to be no pressing need to change this ballot language.

Draft #100 removes a little bureaucracy for ballot sponsors but does nothing to give voters more information or power. Draft #82 provides a one-time change that may actually benefit the sponsors of the recreational marijuana initiative, who would love to present an LRC assessment showing their proposal pumping millions of dollars into South Dakota’s general fund.

Drafts 77, 81, 96, 97, and 99 are on the whole anti-initiative measures meant to frustrate the ability of citizens to change their laws and constitution. The task force also shot down the two best improvements in the initiative process on their docket: giving sponsors more time to submit petitions (Senator Nesiba’s Draft #87) and protecting approved ballot measures from Legislative repeal (Chair Emily Wanless’s Draft #114).

The idea of a citizen panel to review ballot measures has been assigned to a subcommittee for further review. The task force will meet one more time, in October, to review that review. A citizen panel could turn into another hindrance to the initiative process, but even if the task force gets that citizen panel concept right, it won’t be enough to reverse the overall negative results the interim task force on initiative and referendum has produced for people power.


  1. Porter Lansing 2017-08-24 08:28

    The legislature’s majority feels threatened by the voters. The majority’s Vote No On Everything policy coupled with No New Taxes has South Dakota growth potential minimized. It’s as if the state has on a pair of too small shoes.

  2. jerry 2017-08-24 08:45

    LOL Porter, that “pair of too small shoes” is spot on. They do feel kind of boxed in by the citizens with the citizens threat of demanding the legislature do an honest sessions work. The legislature worries that the citizens will upset their game and bring some transparency to bear. The legislature sounds and acts like we are children and they are our saviors. As long as they want to be our nanny’s then give the state Medicaid Expansion and tell those 3 yahoo’s in Washington to give us the means for renewable energy with better grid expansion and support the 25th.

  3. Donald Pay 2017-08-24 10:05

    What a crock of…. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

  4. Porter Lansing 2017-08-24 10:58

    Right on, Jerry. Pierre is overstocked with legislators who ran on “small government” and who couldn’t build a project if they were given the instructions. Take the non-meandered issue. They couldn’t even or wouldn’t even take a side on the issue without making their decision void in a few years.
    Not solving problems isn’t being a problem solver.
    Not making new laws isn’t being a lawmaker.

  5. jerry 2017-08-24 11:04

    One of the first ways voters could see if they were voting for a cult republican or someone that is actually able to deal with simple issues without turning them into complex nanny state issues would the this. Have them, both genders, on an individual basis, first time out of the chute, put together a shelving unit from Ikea. You can clearly see who the thinkers on that would be and then we would have some great women legislators to handle our state’s needs. It is clear to me that these cult clods that are now dragging their knuckles around Pierre only can do one thing, protect their gravy train.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-24 21:16

    “Vote No on Everything”—dang! That’s why Mortenson is proposing Draft #83: he wants to make the Republican “Vote No on Everything” line absolutely consistent with the Republican desire to crush all citizen efforts! In 2016, when Republicans chanted, “Vote No on Everything,” I could chuckle at the fact that anyone heeding that shallow advice would also vote to block the youth minimum wage and the incumbent protection act that the Republicans wanted but which we referred to a public vote. Mortenson would take away that pleasure and that discombobulation of GOP anti-populist sloganeering. Draft #83 is moving up on my list of proposals to kill in 2018.

    Oh my—imagine the how the debate will sound if we have to refer Draft #83: “Vote No, because Republicans want you to vote No!” Or maybe, “Your vote Yes means your next vote Yes will have to be a No.” Ot maybe, “Yes means Yes means No, and No means Yes means Yes!”

  7. grudznick 2017-08-24 22:02

    Stop the gumming up of the system!

    If I still had a yard, I would put up one of those VNOE yard signs.

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-25 06:23

    Vote No on Everything is the approach some people take to my blog comment section. That approach isn’t helpful here, either. :-D

  9. Darrell Solberg 2017-08-25 11:42

    OMG, when are the voters of S.D. going to start protecting us from the dictatorial ways of the majority party?????????

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-25 13:13

    Well, Darrell, they haven’t rallied in great numbers to protest Bolin’s, Otten’s, Reed’s, and Mortenson’s efforts at the task force hearings, have they?

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