Representative Isaac Latterell’s (R-6/Tea) primary Legislative agenda appears to be to waste our time. In the midst of busy-busy Crossover Week, when each chamber must rush final votes on all of the real bills it has originated, Rep. Latterell threw into the works House Concurrent Resolution 6018, a measure to require his fellow legislators to sit through a complete reading of the South Dakota Constitution during Session.
My quick copy-paste-computer count of our august founding papers finds HCR 6018 would require the recitation of over 26,000 words. At Senator Al Novstrup’s delivery rate of 150 words per minute, reading the South Dakota Constitution aloud in its entirety would take 176 minutes—three hours, with reasonable pauses every fifteen minutes to wet the constitutional whistle. This recitation would include a description of the legal boundaries of the state, the provisions under which we chose Pierre as the state capital over a century ago, and the now utterly useless provisions for transitioning from territory to state.
Three hours is longer than the full House and Senate meet on many Legislative days; HCR 6018 could thus reduce the effective working time of each chamber by a full work day… and another day removed from a 37-day calendar is a significant sacrifice.
Latterell sought not just some cursory speed-reading from staff at the podium; HCR 6018 would have required one or more members of each chamber to read while a quorum sat quietly at their desks tweeting their sweeties back home about Representative Latterell’s monumental waste of time.
Representative Latterell demonstrated the import of HCR 6018 Thursday by reading aloud from the House floor Article XIV on State Institutions and Article XV on the Militia. (See SDPB video at 1:01:40.) Representative Latterell’s unoriginal recitation dragged for over three minutes, until Majority Leader Lee Qualm (R-21/Platte) raised a point of order: “I’m not sure that this is necessary.” Speaker Steven Haugaard (R-10/Sioux Falls) ruled that the Representative from Tea was making his point with regards to the Constitution and permitted Latterell to continue his show. Latterell concluded his reading seconds later… then with a couple prefatory remarks proceeded to read his resolution aloud verbatim. Latterell said reading the state constitution for five minutes each day from the floor would help educate the public and affirm legislators’ oath to uphold the constitution.
I think Latterell suffers from a sort of cognitive dyslexia: he’s mistaking uphold the constitution for hold up the execution of constitutional duties.
The only person who felt Latterell had not wasted enough of the Legislature’s time was Representative Caleb Finck (R-21/Tripp), who rose to offer 55 seconds of commentary in support of HCR 6018.
The resolution then failed on a 34–35 vote… meaning the House was two votes shy of having a majority think that reading aloud from a piece of paper is the best way to teach.
And these people make education policy. Yikes.
After the vote, Speaker Haugaard did “commend our membership to review” the Constitution “each time you take the oath. It’s a good exercise. It does take a long time to read through it—about three hours.”
If Representative Latterell feels his colleagues and the electorate are not sufficiently educated on the South Dakota Constitution, he should seek to educate us all before ignorant legislators get to Pierre or even get on the ballot. Perhaps Representative Latterell should bring a bill requiring candidates to pass a test on the state constitution before the Secretary of State may place their names on the ballot. And since we would want a deep assessment not just of potential legislators’ knowledge and comprehension of the text but also of their ability to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate our constitutional principles in making good public policy, that test should not be a mere multiple-guess bubble test. It should be a combination essay/presentation assessment, evaluated by independent committees of educators from other legislative districts. I will be happy to serve on the scoring committees for districts other than my own.