The Bureau of Finance and Management provided the Joint Appropriations Committee with an overview of the state budget yesterday. At 39:30 in the SDPB recording of the hearing, BFM told Joint Appropriations that the Secretary of State’s office has asked the Legislature to revise its budget upward $60,000 in this fiscal year for two projects: $25K for online voter registration and $35K for the initiative and referendum petition circulator badges that the Legislature enacted in 2019 with House Bill 1094.
Notice the priorities: the state is considering spending more money on a badging program that would deter participation in government than it is inclined to spend on an online voter registration program to encourage civic participation.
Notice also that HB 1094’s project to complicate petitioning cost the same as the LRC’s fiscal note said my plan would cost to remove restrictions and give petitioners eight more months to collect signatures. If we’re going to spend $35,000, why not spend it to help more people get involved in government?
In a sign that BFM has been reading the papers, BFM said of that badge program, “obviously, that is in court right now, and it will depend on what happens next, if there’s an appeal or not, so that $35,000 will be determined in the next few months, if that’s necessary.”
BFM is referring here to the federal court ruling that those $35,000 circulator badges violate the First Amendment, secured by yours truly and my formidable lawyer, Jim Leach. Had I remained silent, had I allowed this unconstitutional law to stand, requiring the Secretary of State to churn out a hundreds of circulator badges every other year and manage a public registry of circulator contact information would have burned up $35,000.
Alas, I’d say the Legislature could thank me and put that money toward coupling the online voter registration program with electronic petitions and signature verification, but the Legislature has to pay a price for its wanton violation of the Constitution. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg’s unethical and misleading lawyering has already cost the state $114,000 in the lawsuit overturning IM 24, another unconstitutional restriction on ballot measures promulgated by the SDGOP machine. It took fewer lawyers to overturn HB 1094, but Ravnsborg’s failure to come up with any good excuse for the Republican Legislature’s disregard and disdain for the First Amendment will likely cost the state more legal fees.
Forcing circulators to wear badges was going to cost the state one way or the other. Had we let that unconstitutional law stand, we’d have seen increased costs every year. By taking that law to court and killing it, we’ve reduced that cost to a one-time check for my having to engage a lawyer to educate the Legislature about the First Amendment. Perhaps that lesson will stick, and the Legislature will leave the initiative and referendum process alone this Session.
Oh, and while you’re at it, Appropriators, since we don’t need no stinking badges, go to Senate Bill 38, the FY2020 General Appropriations Act revision BFM was talking about yesterday, and amend Section 17, the Secretary of State’s funding boost, by striking “$442,190” and inserting “$407,190”.
South Dakota would be well served by ponying up $189,000 annually for a Constitutional Ombudsman (Cory Heidelberger) to advise on constitutionality of future bills and previous laws. The money would be easily saved from just a dozen or so already unconstitutional laws on the books avoiding the same fate as the two in 2019.
I support Porter’s suggestion.