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Legislature Fears Citizen Initiatives More Than Coronavirus

After two weeks of work, and with two weeks left to introduce new bills in regular order, the Legislature has thrown 179 bills in the hopper. Three of those bills deal directly with the coronavirus pandemic:

  1. Senate Bill 3 would repeal the sunset clause on the Department of Health’s power, enacted last year as the pandemic hit South Dakota, to seek court enforcement of its health orders. Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon told Senate Health and Human Services Wednesday that the Department has used that power ten times, only in extreme cases of non-compliance. Senate Bill 3 thus appears not to appreciably expand the state’s fight against coronavirus. (The Senate passed SB 3 Thursday and sent it to House Health and Human Services.)
  2. House Bill 1046 brings ALEC’s and Mitch McConnell’s long-sought immunity from liability for coronavirus lawsuits to South Dakota, making it nearly impossible to hold businesses, manufacturers, and anyone else accountable for failing to protect workers and customers from coronavirus. This bill, like McConnell’s national proposal last year, is a solution in search of a problem: there is no wave of frivolous coronavirus lawsuits to be stanched, because it’s already hard to prove in court that the action or inaction of any specific actor led directly to a specific party’s coronavirus infection. Nonetheless, HB 1046 is the opposite of pandemic prevention; it decreases the legal pressure on responsible parties to protect others from coronavirus. (Senate State Affairs amended and passed HB 1046 Friday.)
  3. House Bill 1060 would require that funeral directors be notified if they are receiving a body of someone who had a communicable disease, like coronavirus, that the Governor has declared a public health emergency. HB 1060 originally directed the person completing the medical portion of the death certificate for any deceased individual; House Judiciary amended HB 1060 to apply only to deaths taking place in a health care facility and to mandate the notice from that facility. HB 1060 as amended would thus not require any warning to funeral directors pertaining to folks who die at home, on the road, or anywhere else other than a hospital, clinic, or nursing home. HB 1060 thus marginally increases protection from coronavirus for only a small class of businesspeople in South Dakota. (Senate Judiciary passed HB 1060 Friday.)

The two bills taking action against coronavirus take only limited steps to protect public health; the third bill specific to the pandemic reduces protection against the spread of covid-19.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is considering four bills to limit the spread of initiative and referendum:

  1. Senate Bill 77 would require all petitions for initiated laws to be printed in at least 12-point font. SB 77 would thus make it harder for initiative sponsors to print manageable petitions and effectively limit the scope and detail of laws that citizens could propose. (Senate State Affairs has not placed SB 77 on its calendar yet.)
  2. Senate Bill 86 would empower the Secretary of State to reject proposed initiated amendments if the Secretary feels that the amendment either encompasses multiple subjects or constitutes a revision, not an amendment, of the South Dakota Constitution. SB 86 thus writes Governor Kristi Noem’s flimsy objections to Amendment A, 2020’s successful cannabis constitutionalization, into law, usurps the voters’ and the courts’ proper authority to determine which initiated measures are kosher, and changes the Secretary of State’s role from ministerial to dictatorial in the petition approval process. SB 86 creates one more significant and easily abused roadblock to citizens’ exercise of their right to amend their Constitution. (SB 86 awaits a spot on the calendar of Senate State Affairs.)
  3. House Bill 1054 would force ballot question sponsors to pay for copies of their initiatives to be placed in the hands of every voter at election time. I calculate HB 1054 could impose on every initiative sponsoring committee a cost of $162,000 or more. Creating this new financial burden would drive grassroots groups off the political field and ensure that a higher percentage of ballot questions would come from big-money groups. Our initiatives would less reflect the interests of South Dakota voters and more reflect the interests of corporations and other wealthy special interests. (House Bill 1054 gets its first hearing on Monday morning (tomorrow! January 25!), 7:45 a.m., in House State Affairs.)
  4. House Bill 1062 would shift the cost of defending initiated amendments that are challenged in court and ruled unconstitutional from the Attorney General to the sponsors of the amendments. The financial uncertainty created by HB 1062—will someone sue if we win? Will the Attorney General lose and stick us with a huge bill?—will force sponsors to maintain sizable legal defense funds for potential indeterminate costs, which means they’ll have less money available to conduct their petition drives, educate the public, and promote their measures before the election. That financial uncertainty will also deter more grassroots groups from even starting a petition drive and incurring the risk that crafty lawyers will take their measures to court after a successful election. (HB 1062 awaits the attention of House Judiciary.)

The Legislature thus has before it four bills dealing with citizen ballot measures, each of which treats initiative not as a constitutional right but as a hazard to the Republic that must be reined in or rubbed out.

Four bills fighting citizens’ right to participate in democracy, versus two bills only marginally fighting coronavirus, plus a third pandemic-related bill that actually weakens efforts to prevent the spread of covid-19. Hmmm… a straight reading of the bills in the hopper indicates that the South Dakota Legislature views citizen initiatives as a greater threat than coronavirus.


  1. Donald Pay 2021-01-24 09:21

    Clearly, there’s a preference in the Legislature to kill off voters any way possible. I don’t understand it. It’s any authoritarian mindset that is unAmerican and anti-South Dakotan.

  2. o 2021-01-24 10:28

    Donald, Unfortunately I think you do understand it.

    I also think in the world of super-partisan politics, one runs for office to “own the other side.” Both nationally and regionally I heard a lot of “own the lobbies” as justification for legislative action. Going into office seeing nearly 1/2 your constituents as the enemy seems like a system that must be eradicated.

  3. grudznick 2021-01-24 14:19

    My friend, The Donald, and I disagree on these measures initiated. They are bad, they are very bad.

  4. Donald Pay 2021-01-24 16:48

    Grudz, there’s a difference between the measures petitioned to the ballot and the Constitutional provision of the initiative. You don’t seem to make a distinction. I’ve voted for and against initiatives, but the people who bring them have the Constitutional right to do so, and I support that. The people who bring the most ballot measures, Grudz, are legislators, so if your concern is people voting on matters, then you need to oppose legislative use of the Joint Resolution. itizens propose measures all the time, Grudz.

  5. Bob Newland 2021-01-24 20:58

    Nothing reasonable is Ikely to occur in Lee Schoenbeck’s legislature. As far as I can tell, Schoenbeck has not backed a single bill supporting my right to express my opinion in a public forum.

  6. grudznick 2021-01-24 21:04

    Mr. Pay, I oppose most all the legislatures do. But the legislatures are not going to put away their guns while the ignorant masses still have theirs, waving around like drunken clowns at the circus. The only way to fix this is complete disarmament. No initiated measures, and no legislative meddling. Let the Governor alone propose changes, after she or he consults with the many parties affected.

  7. jake kammerer 2021-01-25 11:32

    Grudz-gravy or Trump conservatism has befuddled your thinking…. Dictatorial rule as you advocate might be your utopia, but thankfully, that threat went out the door with the Great Pumpkin recently. Our system, for which many have died, requires the powers to listen to the people they SERVE!

  8. Donald Pay 2021-01-25 13:51

    Well, Grudz, I doubt its true that you “oppose most all the legislatures do.” Most of what the legislature does is not controversial in any way. Legislators do fine on that stuff, generally. It’s the big stuff they screw up most of the time. Superfund Sites: thank the Legislature and Governors for lax laws. We tried through legislation and initiative to prevent the heap leach mine leaks, but hey, they think they know best. Now you get to pay for cleaning up the Canadian and Australian mining companies’ messes while they took the profits back to their countries. Too bad, so sad. I haven’t stepped foot back in South Dakota for 15 years so I wouldn’t be contributing my money to the economy there so stupid legislators couldn’t figure out a way to misappropriate my sales tax dollars.

    Then there are the anti-people-having-a-say bills Cory points out above. These are the one’s that say, “We do such a good job eff-ing up all the time that we’re going to make sure our subjects get no say in anything.” How’s that working? You can’t even pay your own bills without relying of federal bailouts. Deadbeats and welfare queens.

  9. grudznick 2021-01-25 14:45

    Mr. Pay, I assure you I pay all my bills promptly and with my own money.

  10. robin friday 2021-01-25 15:34

    That font thing sounds like, looks like and quacks like pure gamesmanship to me.

  11. jerry 2021-01-25 15:51

    How about an imitative to eliminate legislators? What good are they? We’ve proven that we can do the people’s work through initiatives, who needs these archaic moochers.

  12. grudznick 2021-01-25 18:03

    Mr. jerry, did you think about how bad that could be for you? Governor vetoes, you need 2/3 of the votors to override. Wouldn’t that be fun, and time consuming.

  13. jerry 2021-01-25 18:23

    Mr. grudznick, how is it any different now? The gnome makes the rule and the 2/3 dance the jig. Why not let us’ins make the rule then the gnome can dance the jig? Save lot’s of money and then the crooks can go back to their roost to steal from their neighbors.

  14. grudznick 2021-01-25 18:48

    Are you drunk on bootleg already this evening, Mr. jerry? You are being more nonsensical than ususal.

  15. jerry 2021-01-25 19:05

    just being realistic, try it sometime

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