House Bill 1007 carries the watered-down “Citizen Initiative Review Commission” proposal from the Initiative and Referendum Task Force to the 2018 Legislative Session. As I reported in October, the task force reduced a reasonably good proposal from eight to three sections, leading task force member Linda Lea Viken to describe the remains as “the tail. The dog has left the room.”
HB 1007 would give us something we don’t have now: at least one public hearing, in Pierre, “for any initiated measure and initiated amendment to the Constitution” that makes the ballot. I think that language means the CIRC holds at least one hearing for each initiated measure, but I’d like someone from Legislative Research Council to clarify before we codify. HB 1007 specifies that the CIRC shall take testimony from the petition sponsor and from the public. (Curious: if no one shows up, will the CIRC subpoena testimony?) The CIRC then produces a 300-word-max “objective written summary” for each initiative to be published on the Secretary of State’s website.
The citizen initiative review commission proposed in HB 1007 isn’t all bad, but it falls short of the more robust ballot education measures used in other states and proposed by Rob Timm of the Chiesman Center for Democracy at the I&R Task Force’s June meeting. Legislators have a chance to improve HB 1007’s intent to educate voters by restoring some of the provisions that the task force dropped last fall:
- Post more documents online, including Pro and Con statements from CIRC subcommittees, review and comment from LRC, and complete minutes of all hearings.
- Mail CIRC information to every registered voter.
- Fund the CIRC (the original draft authorized private donations alongside general funds, but let’s keep big private donors from skewing the process and provide straight public funding).
Legislators can further improve HB 1007 by adding these provisions:
- Further limit or entirely remove legislators from the CIRC. That first C is for Citizen. HB 1007 reserves two to four seats for current or former veteran legislators—specifically, those who have served at least two full terms in Pierre. Legislators already have the power to amend and repeal initiatives in complete defiance of the popular will; why give them the opportunity to sandbag initiatives on the Citizen Initiative Review Committee?
- Require at least two hearings for each initiative, with at least one outside of Pierre. If the commission exists to help citizens review initiatives, it should meet where more citizens are.
- Include referred laws in the CIRC’s agenda. Sure, referred laws have gone through scrutiny in Legislative committees and floor debates. But voters will see referred laws and initiated laws and amendments side by side on the ballot. The CIRC should educate voters on all of the ballot measures.
- Change the partisan balance to prevent any partisan majority. HB 1007 creates an eleven-member CIRC with no more than six members from the same party. Six out of eleven members with the same party affiliation could hijack the committee to promote their party’s position on the ballot measures (such as the “Vote No on Everything!” likely to come from the Republicans in 2018). Amend Section 1 of HB 1007 to allow no more than four members of the same party on the CIRC.
HB 1007 is not as bad as HB 1005, the I&R Task Force’s effort to confound the meaning of “Yes” and “No” on referred laws. With a little work, HB 1007 could be improved from, “Well, o.k., I suppose” to a “You bethca!” improvement in voter education on South Dakota ballot measures.