South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry exec David Owen includes some interesting numbers about our Legislature’s bills and pass rates. According to the count in Owen’s traveling slideshow summarizing the 2022 Session, this year’s Legislature proposed the most bills in a decade but passed the lowest percentage of bills in a decade:
Senators whipped up 8% more bills than their average number from the previous eleven years; House members threw 29% more bills than recent average in the hopper. But that 44.5% pass rate—the lowest since the 1927 biennial session—kept the number of new laws put on the books about the same as the average for the past decade.
If we expand Owen’s numbers back to 2011, we can compare bill generation and pass rates during the Daugaard Administration and the Noem Administration. During the eight years of Dennis Daugaard’s governance, the Legislature considered an average of 455 bills a year and passed 250, for an average pass rate of 54.9%. During the four years of Kristi Noem’s occasional occupation of the Second Floor, the annual average number of bills proposed has risen 9% to 497, but the average annual number of bills passed has dropped 4% to 241, for an average pass rate of 48.5%.
In other words, like the Governors under whom they operate, the Noem Legislatures talk more and do less.
Owen notes what I consider an alarming surge in the use of the emergency clause. The coronavirus pandemic has coincided with and perhaps driven a tripling in the number of bills proposed for immediate enactment:
Maybe the pandemic has necessitated swift government action and spending (though few of the emergency-clause bills proposed this Session have anything to do with fighting covid or providing healthcare or pandemic relief; they have far more to do with spending federal dollars on infrastructure and economic stimulus). But by Owen’s count, 61 of the bills passed by the Legislature—a quarter of this year’s enacted tally, twice the average from Owen’s listed pre-coronavirus Sessions)—denied citizens the right to refer those measures to a public vote. This high (I would say excessive) use of the emergency clause further weakens the Legislative power reserved to the people in Article 3 Section 1 of the South Dakota Constitution. Among the things we must do to improve our Legislature is to reverse this trend toward more use of the emergency clause. The much-abused emergency clause should be reserved for real emergencies, situations that, if not addressed by government action before July 1 (the usual enactment date for South Dakota laws), will lead to real chaos, death, and destruction. Absent that change, I would welcome a constitutional amendment that would allow citizens to refer emergency measures to a vote.