The Government Operations and Audit Committee would really like to see the Kassidy Peters’s remediation plan—you know, the document Labor Secretary Marcia Hultman told GOAC last month is proof that Peters’s mom, Governor Kristi Noem, couldn’t have been exerting any pressure on Appraiser Certification Program chief Sherry Bren when Noem called Bren to the Governor’s Mansion for an unusual meeting with Noem, Peters, Hultman, three lawyers, and the Governor’s chief of staff (also a lawyer). But thanks to the firewalls the Republican Legislature has put between investigative committees and facts about nepotism and other corruption, GOAC has to play “Mother May I?” with another committee before executing a subpoena to support its investigatory purpose:
The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee is readying to initiate a subpoena on Monday if the Department of Labor and Regulation doesn’t hand over a signed agreement between the governor’s daughter, Kassidy Peters, and state regulators. Peters won her appraiser certification after a state agency moved to deny it last year. Noem’s labor secretary has said the agreement was a road map for how Peters could improve her work.
Two lawmakers on the committee — Republican Rep. Randy Gross and Democrat Rep. Linda Duba — said the committee was ready to issue the subpoena. However, any subpoena would also require approval from the Executive Board, a ranking committee of top legislators that will meet later next week [Stephen Groves, “South Dakota Lawmakers to Press for Noem Daughter’s Records,” AP, 2021.11.12].
GOAC did not use to need the Executive Board’s permission to subpoena information and witnesses. In December 2017, Attorney General Marty Jackley issued an official opinion noting that the law plainly authorized GOAC to subpoena witnesses. Alarmed at GOAC’s ability to demand facts, GOAC’s then-chair Senator Deb Peters (no relation to Kassidy that I know of) got the law changed to not only require GOAC get the E-Board’s permission to demand testimony and documents but also to limit the witnesses and information GOAC can subpoena.
The immediate result: GOAC meets Monday for its second discussion of Noem’s intervention in her daughter’s appraiser certification, but it can’t subpoena anything from the Department of Labor or the Governor or Peters or anyone else until the Executive Board starts its big two-day meeting on Wednesday. If E-Board says o.k. to subpoenas, GOAC may have to meet again just to draft and issue the subpoenas, and that may not happen until after Turkey Day.
The general result: getting to the bottom of any corruption in state government involves more haggling and delay, giving nepotists and other ne’er-do-wells more time to shred and forge evidence, cook up better cover stories, and shush potential witnesses (or just wait for them to keel over from natural causes).
If any legislators are working on bills to prefile for the 2022 Session, I suggest an emergency bill to reclaim GOAC’s subpoena power. Strike the last sentence of SDCL 2-6-4 (“However, no subpoena may be issued until the decision to issue a subpoena by the Government Operations and Audit Committee has been ratified by the Executive Board of the Legislative Research Council”), and completely repeal SDCL 2-6-4.2, Deb Peters’s unnecessary hair-splitting about what GOAC can and cannot subpoena.