The Legislature had before it five bills to address the conflict between the rural electric cooperatives and the municipal utilities who can unilaterally seize the coops’ most lucrative territory and assets. All have died, signaling the growing power of “urban” over rural interests in the South Dakota Legislature.
South Dakota News Watch depicted House Bill 1262 as the rural electric cooperatives’ greatest hope this Session:
Co-ops, though, helped write and found a sponsor this session for what became House Bill 1262, which they call a compromise. If the bill becomes law, it would force municipal utilities to give notice up to one year prior to taking service territory from another utility, to give co-ops a chance to negotiate for a better deal prior to territory being taken, and to give co-ops the option to challenge a territory taking in court. The co-ops see the legislation as necessary in order to level the playing field and protect their most vulnerable and remote customers from paying excessively high electricity rates [Nick Lowery, “Municipal Growth and Rural Utility Rates at Stake in Electricity Squabble,” South Dakota News Watch, 2020.03.04].
Senate Commerce and Energy tabled that bill—meaning they killed it without debate—on Thursday.
Also gone poofskies are Senate Bill 83 (tabled Wednesday by House Commerce and Energy on a 9–3 vote), Senate Bill 184 (withdrawn February 26), and House Bill 1180 (failed February 24 in House State Affairs 2–10). Most curiously killed was House Bill 1199, which Senate prime sponsor Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska) hoghoused Thursday into a surprise rewrite of Governor Kristi Noem’s HB 1117, the new pro-pipeline anti-protest bill. Schoenbeck is now using HB 1199 to strike Noem’s legally vague “riot-boosting” —which Schoenbeck told Senate Commerce and Energy is “a locally created phrase that doesn’t have a history in the law“— and to replace that term with the somewhat clearer “incitement to riot.”
Now amendments, even hoghouses, are supposed to be germane to their bill’s original subject (see Joint Rule 5–14). Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) asked Schoenbeck to explain the germaneness of turning his rural/muni electric war bill into a revision of riot statutes:
Monroe: I don’t see any way that this compares with electrical companies. Can you explain that?
Schoenbeck: It’s an energy policy bill, like the other one was. How’s that? [transcribed from audio, Victoria Wicks, “Riot Boosting Part Two Slipped into Hoghoused Bill, Has to Pass Two Chambers in a Day,” SDPB, 2020.03.05]
If I didn’t know better, I’d think Schoenbeck was using HB 1199 to take two backhanded swipes at the Governor. His statements on his hoghouse could be read as hinting that the Governor doesn’t know how to write a bill with proper legal language (“locally created” is code for “relies on crony advisors who lack experience and legal training”) and acknowledging the Orwellian absurdity of claiming that chilling First Amendment expression is really “energy policy.” But Schoenbeck could have taken those swipes and achieved the same legal effect more easily by offering these amendments to the original riot-boosting bill itself on the Senate floor later that afternoon. Now instead of one conference committee discussion of one bill, Schoenbeck’s hoghouse doubles the work. Why send two bills to do one bill’s work?
The only practical scheme I can think of is that Schoenbeck might smell a referendum push against Noem’s riot-boosting legislation. Unlike last year’s rushed riot-boosting bills (2019 SB 189 and 190), Noem’s HB 1117 has no emergency clause (funny that protecting TransCanada/TC Energy from tribal protest was an emergency last year but is not an emergency a year later), so the ACLU, tribal advocates, environmentalists, and other anti-pipeline and anti-Noem forces could petition this anti-protest bill to the November ballot. By spreading the traps for protestors across two bills, Schoenbeck will be requiring any referendum agitators to carry and submit two petitions and campaign for “No” votes on two separate ballot measures, increasing the cost and difficulty of any referendum campaign.
Whatever Schoenbeck’s motives in his incitement hoghouse, the fate of HB 1199 shows in two ways our Legislature’s narrow governing priorities. The municipalities beat back the rural electric cooperatives challenge to the municipalities’ unchecked annexation power with the claim that they must be able to exercise that power to lure big companies and promote economic development. Schoenbeck’s hoghouse of the last rural/muni-battle bill into a sop to big pipeline companies further demonstrates our willingness to subordinate the rights of South Dakotans to promises of big dollars from foreign corporations.