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Hospital Lobby Still Waiting to Launch Petition Drive to Expand Medicaid

South Dakota’s hospital lobby is tweeting and its partners at The Fairness Project say they are working on expanding Medicaid in South Dakota, but the South Dakotans Decide Healthcare ballot question committee still isn’t doing the real work of collecting signatures on an initiative petition. Twelve weeks after abandoning the petition the Secretary of State approved for circulation on March 25 and submitting an identical draft of their Medicaid expansion amendment to the Legislative Research Council for review, and five weeks after the Attorney General provided an unusually swift ballot measure explanation (a copy of his previous explanation), the Secretary of State still hasn’t approved a petition for circulation.

I can’t imagine any delay on the Pierre side of the process. The Secretary of State has no reason to delay his approval of the new petition: it should look just like the old one, so Secretary Steve Barnett doesn’t need to do any new review. Ditto for the Legislative Research Council: since the measure is identical, they can issue the same required fiscal note as before.

Yet that LRC fiscal note is the one prerequisite document missing from the hospital lobby’s redo folder on the SDSOS ballot question page. SDCL 2-9-30 gives the LRC 60 days to prepare a fiscal note for an initiative petition. LRC issued its repeat guidance to the ballot question committee on April 13, so the committee could have started the LRC’s fiscal note clock the next day by submitting their easy final draft right away. So either the LRC is breaking the law (unlikely) or the hospital lobby was slow on checking its email and filing its final draft petition (likely, given how they’ve been delaying real petition action continually since launching their copycat initiative last November). The Attorney General issued his repeat explanation on May 11, so the hospital lobby must filed its final draft no later than early May. But even if SDDH sent the AG and the LRC their final draft on May 10 and thus started LRC’s fiscal note 60-day clock at that late date (why wait? why wait?), the LRC could have followed the AG’s lead and said, “After review, it was determined that the final form of this proposed measure is identical to the measure previously submitted by the sponsor. Accordingly, the [Legislative Research Council’s Fiscal Note] for this measure is identical to the one submitted to you on [January 28, 2021].”

The LRC has no reason to dilly-dally; it has other work to do, and this fiscal note is an easy task to clear from the inbox. The only reason I can think of is that South Dakotans Decide Healthcare hasn’t given the LRC its final draft yet. But why would a ballot question committee eager to hit the streets, collet signatures, and put a great initiative on the ballot delay simple paperwork like that and thus forego five more weeks of circulating time? It’s prime petitioning weather! The sun is out, the days are long, the mosquitoes are down (at least up here in Aberdeen, which by this time of year is usually a deadly swamp but where this year I have yet to hear the soothing buzz of the mosquito spraying trucks), and the pandemic in most people’s perception has broken, meaning we’ve got all sorts of ball games and Arts-in-the-Parks and other public gatherings where we can meet and greet and collect signatures. Why, why, why, why, WHY?!? are we not hoovering up signatures right now before the coronavirus mutates into Delta-double-prime and sends us all back into quarantine?

The only reason I can deduce from the public record for such a delay is that the hospital lobby is so committed to its overthought thesis that it can tip the balance of the 2022 election by securing a revised fiscal note that it hasn’t submitted its final draft to LRC for the fiscal review yet because it is pressuring the LRC to rewrite the 50-word fiscal note with the language the hospital lobby wants.

Pressuring the LRC is, of course, not cool. The LRC is supposed to be a completely neutral observer, providing unbiased language and analysis in strict compliance with its statutory duties. If the hospital lobby is doing that, they are barking up the wrong tree. The language they need to convince voters that expanding Medicaid is a great fiscal deal for South Dakota isn’t going to come from the LRC or anyone else in Pierre; it’s going to come from Lawrence & Schiller or whatever other advertisers they hire (and from me, too, and I’ll blog it for free) to flood the Internet and the airwaves and the billboards with messages saying, “Medicaid expansion saves money and saves lives!”

I wholeheartedly support expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. I supported it back when hospital lobby chief Tim Rave was still in the Legislature letting Governor Dennis Daugaard’s Medicaid expansion proposal die. If the hospital lobby gets its initiative on the ballot, I’ll shout for it and vote for it. If actively petitioning and democracy-defending Dakotans for Health gets its initiative (the one the hospital lobby is copying) on the ballot, I’ll shout for it and vote for it, too. (I’ll gladly vote for both and eagerly watch the LRC Code Counsel scramble to figure out how to reconcile the two initiatives by July 1, 2023!)

I don’t care whose initiative makes the ballot, as long as we expand Medicaid. But we can’t vote on the measure if it’s not on the ballot, and it won’t be on the ballot if we don’t get a petition to sign. Quit screwing around, hospital lobby! You have an approved petition in your hands! Don’t wait for a new fiscal note that will say the same thing as the old one; hand out the original petition to your doctors and nurses and clinic receptionists and start collecting signatures!


  1. Donald Pay 2021-06-19 11:24

    I wouldn’t give two small turds for whatever a new fiscal note says. I don’t care what the other one says, either. No one who knows anything about fiscal notes takes those things seriously. Pressuring to get some words your ridiculous PR team wants is going to make it look like corruption, and doom the whole effort. The best thing these folks could do is fire the entire overpaid staff they’ve got monkeywrenching their initiative, and get on with the real work of grassroots organizing efforts to get the thing on the ballot.

  2. Donald Pay 2021-06-19 11:42

    The only good I could see from pressuring the LRC for some words in the fiscal note is to use this delay to sue them claiming First Amendment infringement, and government “forced speech.”

  3. Jake 2021-06-19 11:50

    They could be doing, (neglecting doing ANYTHING) just to make the Weiland petition get a bad taste in people’s heads accordingly?! Make the whole vote look bad to sink Medicaid expansion.
    Methinks the Weiland driven petition is the better, eh?

  4. Mark Anderson 2021-06-19 13:09

    What will be interesting is to see, when it does pass by the vote of the people, what the peoples representatives do to kill or maim it. Mississippi had the luck of losing a Representative so until they change the wording of their constitution they are stuck tight. It already stopped their medical marijuana vote. What will Kristi do to kill healthcare expansion? How do you twist logic and compassion into hatred and refusal of others? Why vote against your constituents? What is more elitist than that?

  5. Cathy B 2021-06-19 21:23

    My nightmare: Although plenty of people sign the petitions, neither initiative ends up with enough signatures. It sure could happen. Questions: Once there are two initiatives circulating, how will people understand there are two of them on this? And understand that they should sign both? How will they know which they have signed already? How will they know if the one in front of them is that one or the other one, so they can sign both? The situation is a mess. I say the legislature should just pass Medicaid expansion in a special session this year and get ‘er done! (Even if neither initiative gets enough signatures, the legislature could and should pass it anyway in their session next winter.)

  6. jerry 2021-06-20 04:44

    Ah, corruption at it’s finest. Republicans rule the corruption roost. Nothing to see here but blatant corruption.

  7. jerry 2021-06-21 09:48

    Pandemic relief dollars make the hospitals content with the way things are. Why would you want Medicaid Expansion when you’re flush with cash? When the poor get sick enough to come to the hospital, they tend to die quick so as not to eat up that corrupted cash.

  8. Jake 2021-06-21 10:29

    Cory, can any problems result from someone signing a petition twice? by different solicitors????

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-06-21 11:30

    Good question, Jake. At first glance, accidentally signing the same petition a second time is no big deal: if the Secretary of State somehow catches your duplicate signatures in the random sample (remember, the Secretary doesn’t review every signature, only about 720 signatures out of the 40K–60K received), the Secretary counts the earliest signature and throws out subsequent repeats. The state would only see a prosecutable case against a signer if there was evidence that signer willfully and knowingly tried to inflate signature counts by repeatedly signing a petition.

    Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to keep track of what you’ve signed and not create the possibility that the petitioners you support will get inflated numbers and perhaps not collect enough actual signatures to qualify their good ideas for the ballot.

  10. Jake 2021-06-21 16:43

    Thanks Cory, satisfactory and great explanation. Spoken by the great teacher you and others in South Dakota are-much to the dis-acknowledgement and dis-respect some, like grudz, show toward one of the more respectable and noteworthy of professions.
    When South Dakota turns blue enough to install an equitable tax system (along with decent wages) then ALL the state, not just a few wealthy, will benefit.

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