Senator Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) promised a clean-up amendment to improve his devious Senate Bill 77, which will crush citizen initiatives by forcing petitioners to use 14-point font on their petitions.
I must admit, Senator Novstrup’s conference committee amendment does improve SB 77 in one small way: it delays implementation of the 14-point font requirement until November 10, 2021. SB 77, as amended and approved by the House 58–10 on Tuesday and the Senate 19–14 yesterday, thus does not affect any initiative petitions for 2022 that may circulate this year; it only imposes this drastic limitation on the petitions that may start circulating in November 2022 for the 2024 election cycle.
But injustice delayed is not injustice denied. SB 77 still unfairly burdens core political expression by practically limiting the number and nature of laws that voters may initiate. Even a bill as simple as Novstrup’s font proposal, as rendered in 12-point font by the Legislative Research Council, requires three printed pages, meaning it would not fit on a standard-sized sheet of paper with all the other language and signature blanks necessary for a legal petition. And SB 77 inserts a mere 44 words into statute and adds another nine to declare its enactment date. Under a 14-point font requirement, citizens can’t put a a measure as seemingly simple as Senator Novstrup’s to a vote, let alone more substantive measures dealing with broader, more complicated policies.
The South Dakota Constitution, Article 3 Section 1, says we the people “expressly reserve the right to propose measures, which shall be submitted to a vote of the electors of the state….” It says measures, no qualification, not measures that fit on one sheet of paper in a font big enough for Al’s tired old eyes. I contend that the 14-point rule is an unconstitutional practical restriction of the people’s right to write and petition their own laws. At the very least, it reduces our right to legislate to something far below the right legislators enjoy to propose legislation without any practical length limit and certainly no binding font requirement.
Asking Governor Noem to veto this measure is, of course, futile. We can only take advantage of the delay now written into Senate Bill 77 to rally the troops for a referendum or maybe a broader correcting initiative… or just come back to the 2022 Legislature and beg for a reprieve against this particular oppression of the people’s right to initiate laws.
P.S.: Gee whiz, if Al really wanted to clean up SB 77, he could at least have applied his concern for the visually challenged to all vital public documents: ballots, codified laws, executive orders, the LRC website, “Paid for by” disclaimers on his campaign materials, public meeting minutes published in newspapers….