The first bill killed in the 2023 Session is House Bill 1001, which sought to restore the Government Operations and Audit Committee’s ability to subpoena witnesses and documents without getting permission from the Legislative Executive Board. House State Affairs held its first substantive meeting Friday and killed this accountability bill on a 9–3 vote.
Representative Randy Gross (R-25/Elkton) noted that HB 1001 had the unanimous endorsement of GOAC members. He reminded House State Affairs that the restriction of GOAC’s subpoena powers was a response to personal conflicts, specifically that party leadership perceived that one member (Stace Nelson, who was not named but who surely looms large in Republican memories) was abusing the subpoena power, and that instead of removing the abusive member from GOAC, the Legislature chose to require oversight of subpoena requests by the E-Board. Gross said the need for that restriction has passed, and the restriction creates inefficiency that prevents GOAC from striking while situations are hot.
But then Gross and other HB 1001 boosters made the error of letting Jordan Mason, lobbying for the DC-based State Freedom Caucus Network, testify in favor of the bill. Mason didn’t say much, just that HB 1001 provides an “adequate measure of government accountability.” But the Freedom Caucus in Pierre is a bunch of right-wing radicals who, like Stace Nelson, sought to upset the SDGOP mainstream’s iron grip on power. That brief reminder of the troublemaking contingent of the Republican caucus scared the mainstreamers more than any opponent testimony (of which State Affairs heard none on Friday), and loyal party water carriers Bartels, Blare, Cammack, Chase, Drury, Mortenson, Rehfeldt, Reimer, and Wangsness voted to send HB 1001 to the 41st day, the Pierre euphemism for death. Futilely voting to save HB 1001 and restore GOAC’s independent investigative power were frustrated radical Freedom Caucuser Jon Hansen, Republican Chaffee, and the lone present Democrat, Erin Healy.
The only reason to subject a committee charged with investigating trouble in government to the authority of another committee is to reduce the ability of that committee to investigate trouble. The Republican leadership has thus succeeded in ensuring that even people within its own ranks who might get a whiff of trouble and want to investigate are checked by the party bosses.