Frerichs Says Respect the Voters, Leave Initiative and Referendum Alone!
At the end of yesterday’s Aberdeen crackerbarrel, my neighbor and local orchestra teacher Joe Berns asked our legislators about House Bill 1275, which we know to be a weird and unworkable geographical quota for ballot question petition signatures. What we didn’t know was that HB 1275’s prime Senate sponsor, our own Senator Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen), has no idea what’s in the bill:
…What this bill says is instead of collecting all of these signatures at the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls, we’re going to ask you to go out to two thirds of the counties. We thought it was overly burdensome to ask you to go out to all the counties, so you get to pick two thirds of the counties and go out and get those same signatures in each county…. The idea was to take all these… signatures that are collected in one place, or maybe two, maybe Rapid City, and get those petition people to come out and talk to people in Aberdeen, for example. I don’t think it’s going to make it substantially harder to get… signatures. I just think they have to get in the car and drive down the road and they have make a strategy, they have to decide which two thirds of the counties—right now they’re getting them in one out of 66 counties or maybe two out of 66. It’s an attempt to spread the signatures to more counties and have them talk to more voters in more places [Sen. Al Novstrup, response to question about HB 1275, Aberdeen, SD, 2018.02.03, timestamp 0:55].
HB 1275 does not base its signature quotas on counties. It bases its signature quotas on arbitrary Senate districts that change every ten years with redistricting. It strikes “county” from information statute requires signers to include on ballot question petitions and replaces it with “senate district,” meaning that the nine out of ten signers who don’t know their Senate district will see their signatures thrown out.
Some blogger recording the crackerbarrel followed up:
When Sharon and I go down to the State Fair to collect signatures, if we’re in the booth, I can collect signatures from anybody in District 3, Sharon can collect from anybody in District 2, but if we’re at the State Fair and Jason comes up or someone from Sioux Falls comes up, we’ve got to have 35 circulators there, each with their own petition, ready to collect a signature from whoever happens to be from that person’s Senate district [CAH, crackerbarrel question, Aberdeen, SD, 2018.02.03, 2:56].
I asked Senate prime sponsor Novstrup to clarify whether I’m reading that circulator-district restriction correctly and whether HB 1275 actually creates three distinct geographical quotas for initiated laws, referred laws, and constitutional amendments. Novstrup begged ignorance:
I’m not the prime sponsor—I’m not the prime prime sponsor, I’m the Senate sponsor, so I didn’t write the bill, so as it goes through the process, if there’s some flaws that get exposed, we’ll gladly amend it, but… the reason I signed onto the bill is that I like the concept, the concept is go out to two thirds of the counties and talk to the people [Novstrup, 2018.02.03, 4:55].
If there’s some flaws?! Didn’t Al just hear that the concept of his bill as written is not to get circulators to go out to two thirds of the counties, but to unworkably force circulators to come from two thirds of the Senate districts?
Senate Pro-Tem Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) isn’t even a co-sponsor, but he can read HB 1275, listen to my explanation, and recognize that HB 1275 won’t work:
I would like to say that I think your read is accurate, and I think that, probably, as Al has said, it was the intention to try to get people to go out and seek to involve more people, but I think that the bill will have to be amended… should it pass through the process, for the very reasons you’ve pointed out. It’s not plausible to think that you’re going to have 35 different circulators at the State Fair asking everybody where are you from and then matching up circulator with constituent. So I appreciate your point of view. As I read it, that is how it reads right now, and I think that throughout the legislative process, in an attempt to make this more functional, that’s something that should be explored [Sen. Brock Greenfield, 2018.02.03, 5:25].
Rep. Drew Dennert (R-3/Aberdeen) agrees with Brock and me:
I would say to Cory I think it would make sense for constitutional amendments, initiated measures, and referred laws all to have the exact same process for that, so I would agree with Senator Greenfield that should this bill be viable, should it be something that we do consider passing or debating, it would need some extensive amendment [Rep. Drew Dennert, 2018.02.03, 6:22].
The only Democrat at the table, Senator Jason Frerichs (D-1/Wilmot) got back to the main point that we should offer against HB 1275 and every other bill in the Novstrup/Mickelson/GOP war against initiative and referendum: it ain’t broke, so quit trying to fix it!
…We need to trust the voters, and the way that the process has worked, it seems to work pretty well. I don’t think we should change the initiative, referendum, or amendment process. Let’s leave it the way it is and trust the people to take care of the business—direct democracy has its purpose here in South Dakota and I don’t favor changes there. I do want integrity—I don’t think we should put up with anyone trying to control everything here in South Dakota, but let’s keep the process intact right now, and that’s why I don’t support the 55% change on constitutional amendments. I do support the right for citizens to be able to initiate constitutional amendments…. We as legislators should not be a gatekeeper for the constitution like that. We need to allow the people to be involved [Sen. Jason Frerichs, 2018.02.03, 6:50].
The four legislators who spoke up about HB 1275 gave us three distinct responses. Senator Frerichs immediately and clearly explained his opposition to the bill and his support for voters’ rights. Rep. Dennert and Sen. Greenfield immediately understood and acknowledged that HB 1275 can’t work as written. But Senator Novstrup, the only legislator on the panel sponsoring HB 1275, showed he hadn’t even read it, couldn’t admit his errors, and kept spreading false information about the bill.