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SJR 502: Remove Lieutenant Governor from Senate Dais, Let Senate Elect Its Own Presiding Officer

South Dakota’s Constitution assigns the Lieutenant Governor to preside over the State Senate and cast tie-breaking votes, just as the United States Constitution assigns the Vice President to similar duties in the U.S. Senate. However, unlike the federal constitution, our state constitution does not mention who chooses the Speaker of the House. The state constitution mentions duties of the presiding officers of the Senate and House (administering oaths to legislators and Legislative officers, signing bills and resolutions, convening Special Sessions), but the Speaker is a creature of statute (SDCL 2-5-3, which specifies that the House shall elect one of its members, not some whackadoodle outsider like Donald Trump, as speaker, and SDCL 2-5-3.1, which rigs tie votes in favor of the candidate from the Governor’s party, which does not address what happens if we elect an independent Governor but no independent legislators or, the more likely scenario, that the Republicans hold every seat in the House.)

Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Lake Kampeska) wants to change the constitutional provisions for both presiding officers. Senator Schoenbeck proposes for the 2024 ballot Senate Joint Resolution 502, which would add two key sentences to Article 3 of the South Dakota Constitution:

  1. The members of the Senate shall elect one member to preside as President of the Senate.
  2. The members of the House of Representatives shall elect on member to preside as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Putting the Speaker into the Constitution would not change practical operations of the House. But making a Senate member the Senate President would put the Lieutenant Governor out of the LG’s only constitutionally prescribed job. SJR 502 makes that unemployment clear by amending Article 4 Section 5 to strike the LG’s Senate duty, leaving only, “The Lieutenant Governor shall perform the duties and exercise the powers that may be delegated by the Governor.” (Senator Schoenbeck nicely joins his party’s pronoun wokism by removing “to him” after “delegated”.) SJR 502 also necessarily reaches into Article 16 Sections 2 and 6 to remove the LG from  presiding over impeachment trials.

Naturally, one would think SJR 502 is an expression of Senator Schoenbeck’s insatiable hunger for power. He’d love to be President, not just President Pro Tempore, and there’s no way he’d tolerate getting the Presidency by being some inferior Republican’s lieutenant. Letting Senators chose their own presiding officer would thus allow Schoenbeck to seize the Senate scepter without subservience.

But to make clear he’s not talking about making himself king, Schoenbeck includes a clause in SJR 502 delaying implementation of this reform until January 1, 2027. Schoenbeck began his current tenure in the Senate in 2019, so by 2027, he’ll have finished his fourth consecutive term and will not be eligible to serve in the 2027 Senate as it exercises its newly voter-approved power to choose its own presiding officer (unless, of course, Lee chooses not to run for Senate in 2024, then returns in the 2026 election).

SJR 502’s provision of an elected Senate President is not unique. It’s actually slightly more common than having the Executive Branch provide Senate leadership. According to Ballotpedia, 26 states have a senator preside over their senates. Minnesota is one of those states, which whackadoodles will cite as support for their ridiculous claim that Schoenbeck and other Senate GOP leaders “are more aligned with Democrats than they are Republicans.”

Senate State Affairs hears SJR 502 tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 10 a.m. Central in Capitol Room 414. If approved by the Senate and House, the proposal to remove the Lieutenant Governor as Senate President and fill that role with an elected Senator would appear on the November 2024 general election ballot.


  1. Donald Pay 2023-02-07 08:28

    Similar Joint Resolutions have been proposed over the years. I can’t understand why they haven’t passed.

  2. 96Tears 2023-02-07 09:01

    Since they were sworn in for the first term, the Noem-Rhoden Administration has had only one goal in mind 24/7/365: Set Noem’s course to run for POTUS. Nothing else. It’s little wonder that Senator Schoenbeck would prefer to detach a reckless chief executive from meddling with the legislative gearworks. Lee’s established himself as the sheriff of the Legislative Branch of government. The Noem/Lewandowsy GQP freak show needs to stay on its side of the line.

    The downside is the removal of a tie-breaker vote from the Executive Branch. Other than that, there isn’t really a big knock against Schoenbeck’s proposal. It’s not like Noem’s goofy ideas need two platforms instead of one. This will help Lieutenant Governor Rhoden spend more time at home in Union Center where his skill set is more useful.

  3. Nick Nemec 2023-02-07 09:19

    I’m not worried about the removal of a tie-breaker vote in the Senate. The House, with an even number of members operates perfectly well without a tiebreaker, all measures must have a majority of the MEMBERS ELECT (36) to pass. The senate with an odd number of members is even less likely to have a tie vote.

    This measure will strengthen the seperation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

  4. 96Tears 2023-02-07 09:54

    Good point, Mr. Nemec. Strengthening the separation of powers is important, especially in South Dakota where the legislative branch is so very weak against the executive branch and the army of big money lobbyists and special interests. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when a two-party balance was sustainable in Pierre.

  5. grudznick 2023-02-07 17:22

    You will not find a fellow in the legislatures who can stand at the podium as ruggedly handsome as Mr. Rhoden does, nor wield as heavy a gavel or as staggering a gut punch. We need a fellow who can weather the squalls, hammer home the bill votes, and deliver a stout belly blow to bring a errant member back to focus. Mr. Rhoden is that fellow, and the public will not vote him out.

  6. Mark Anderson 2023-02-07 17:54

    When our Highmore football team drove all the way to Philip and played to a tie our coach said when we got back and he had a lisp, ” drive five hours for a fuc-ing tie”
    So are ties back if this passes? It would be unusual I know but the LtG has to do something, maybe assume power if the governor is out of state too much?

  7. larry kurtz 2023-02-07 17:59

    Larry Rhoden an improvement to current governor? GOP on GOP violence is the best kind.

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