The Government Operations and Audit Committee is considering taking back some of its power from Legislative leaders. At their October meeting (minutes to be approved at their next meeting December 5), GOAC received and approved a draft bill from Representative Ernie Otten (R-6/Tea) that would strike from SDCL 2-6-4 the recent requirement that GOAC get approval from the Legislative Executive Board to subpoena any documents or witnesses.
That curious subjugation of GOAC’s investigative power to the E-Board came about in 2018 when GOP mainstreamers had an allergic reaction to the efforts of troublemakers like Republican Stace Nelson to use GOAC to investigate Republican shenanigans. GOAC’s October minutes refer to “member disagreements” that led to GOAC’s losing its subpoena authority:
Representation [sic] Otten stated the Committee should not have to ask another Legislative Committee permission to do what it was assigned to do. Representative Peterson stated GOAC is a separate, statutorily created Committee that is not subject to oversight by the Executive Board.… Representative Gross and Senator Schoenfish both agreed that it would be more efficient if the process did not need to be ratified by the Executive Board. Representative Karr believes this draft legislation is a step in the right direction [GOAC, draft minutes, 2022.10.18–19].
GOAC unanimously approved submitting Draft Bill 101 as a committee bill.
While GOAC is making this small stand for its authority, it is not taking back all of the authority it lost in 2018. The subordination of GOAC to the E-Board was only part of 2018 Senate Bill 125; that legislation also hamstrung GOAC’s subpoena power by prohibiting GOAC from subpoenaing any person or documents to get information “that may be used for a criminal proceeding or to legislatively determine guilt or inflict punishment upon an identifiable person” [see SDCL 2-6-4.2, enacted 2018]. Almost anything that might arouse the interest of a truly diligent investigative GOAC—EB-5, GEAR UP, the state plane, nepotism—will have some potential overlap with questions of whether any laws were broken. Committee hearings on actual bad behavior will inevitably determine that certain identifiable persons are guilty of some bad behavior. Otten’s draft bill leaves in place that broad restriction of GOAC’s subpoena power.
As Rep. Karr said, Otten’s draft bill is a step in the right direction, but it needs to go further to restore GOAC’s power to audit government operations.