Dakotans for Health is circulating an initiative petition to give South Dakotans the chance to vote on Medicaid expansion in the 2022 general election. To thwart that effort, longtime Medicaid-expansion opponent Senator Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown) pushed House Joint Resolution 5003, which would have South Dakotans vote at the 2022 primary on amending the Constitution to require that the Medicaid initiative and all future initiatives that would spend or tax significant sums pass by a 60% vote instead of a 50%+1 vote. We usually vote on constitutional amendments at the general election, but Schoenbeck wants the vote on HJR 5003 to happen in June 2022 so it can go into effect on July 1 so it will apply to and reduce the chances of success for Medicaid expansion:
He acknowledged that his expedited push was motivated by the Medicaid expansion campaign, but argued that the vote threshold should apply to all ballot initiatives that levy taxes or spend significant state funds. The Legislature must pass a high threshold — a two-thirds majority — for similar bills [Stephen Groves, “Lawmakers Push 60% Vote Threshold on Tax Ballot Measures,” AP via KOTA-TV, 2021.03.05].
Dakotans for Health has posted to its website an announcement that it wants to refer HJR 5003 itself to a public vote but that Secretary of State Steve Barnett is preventing them from doing so:
Dakotans for Health submitted a HJR 5003 referral petition to the state on March 11th which was rejected by the Secretary of State and is challenging that decision in the South Dakota Supreme Court [Dakotans for Health, “Medicaid Expansion Petition Sponsor Files Against Secretary of State,” media advisory, 2021.03.21].
The Secretary of State’s ballot question webpage says nothing about this proposed and rejected referendum. Dakotans for Health says it will give more details this afternoon, 2 p.m. Central, on a Zoom press conference.
Now I’ve had people ask me if we can refer resolutions to a vote, and I’ve said, “No, we can’t, because resolutions aren’t laws; they don’t do anything.”
But HJR 5003 does something: it places a measure on a statewide ballot and gives us (and by “us”, Lee Schoenbeck means arch-conservative Republican primary voters) a chance to amend our Constitution. It hasn’t gone into effect yet—primary voting doesn’t start for another thirteen months—so HJR 5003 is arguably an intended action of the Legislature that the people could halt with a petition and put to a vote. Blog legal experts, chew on that one!
But remember: HJR 5003 is not the constitutional amendment itself; it’s just the call for a public vote on a Legislatively proposed amendment. So a referral of HJR 5003 would be saying, “Wait! We want to vote on whether we want to vote!” And since referrals usually go to a vote at the next general election, we’d be voting in November 2022 on whether we want to vote on the 60% rule “at the next primary election,” which would be in June 2024.
This lawsuit should be interesting… but we’ll have to wait until this afternoon to get the details.