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Hansen Surrenders, Legislature Approves Six-Month Deadline for Initiative Petitions

Governor Kristi Noem can make sure Rick Weiland has until May 2024 to collect signatures to place the food-tax repeal on the 2024 ballot by immediately signing Senate Bill 113. In a stunning outbreak of good sense, Representative Jon Hansen surrendered to the ruling of the federal courts and joined a unanimous conference committee vote to abandon his unconstitutional eight-month deadline and restore the language originally proposed by Representative Will Mortenson to set the deadline for submitting initiative petitions as the first Tuesday in May, six months before the general election.

Representative Hansen didn’t go gently into his surrender to legal reality. He opened his remarks on the House floor (SDPB video timestamp 6:39:50) by saying, “I’m not a big fan of this bill.” He said the Senate wanted six months and would not budget. “So really the choice for the House is no deadline at all or six months, so unless we can go incite some sort of last-minute mutiny on the Senate side, we’d better stick with the six-month deadline so that we have something in place, and given the…sort of late hour of the Session here, I’m not calling for any sort of mutiny [laughter in the chamber], and I would encourage your green vote on this bill.” With no mutineers in sight, no other Representatives spoke to the issue, and the six-month deadline passed the House 65–5.

In the Senate, Senator David Wheeler explained simply that, because the federal courts had ruled South Dakota’s 12-month deadline for initiative petitions unconstitutional, the Legislature had to enact a new deadline. The thrilling intricacies of petition law somehow failed to arouse any further discussion from Senators, and SB 113 passed the Senate 22–2.

So, petitioners, once Governor Noem signs SB 113, you’ll have until May 7, 2024, to collect the 17,509 signatures necessary to put initiated laws on the 2024 ballot and the 35,017 signatures necessary to put constitutional amendments to a vote. That’s a welcome return to the circulation time South Dakota allowed prior to 2006.

But SB 113 also creates one new deadline in the petition process. Following a novel interpretation that the Eighth Circuit used to avoid having to declare Article 23 Section 1 of the South Dakota Constitution unconstitutional, the Mortenson version of SB 113 will require that sponsors submit the final text of their initiated amendments and laws—not the petitions signed by voters, just the form you intend to circulate—to the Secretary of State no later than twelve months before the general election. The Eighth Circuit indicated that state-constitutional mandate applied only to amendments, but Mortenson over-applied that provision to initiated laws as well, allowing Republicans to sneak one little new obstacle to petitioning into a bill that otherwise largely marks a defeat for the Republican war on direct democracy.

So hey, Representative Hansen and South Dakota legislators: thank you for accepting the ruling of the court and resetting the deadline for submitting signed initiative petitions to the first Tuesday. SB 113’s six-month deadline is a victory for good legal sense and the right of the people to participate in making the laws under which they live.

7 Comments

  1. Donald Pay 2023-03-10

    I was going to say, “The people rule!” Celebration is in order when democracy wins over tyranny, but the celebration must be followed by a vow to never, ever let the GOVERNMENT trample on the rights of citizens. Thanks, Cory, for hoisting the Gadsdon flag and putting an end to this tyranny.

  2. Mark Anderson 2023-03-10

    Hansen is just following current Republican jurisprudence. Make sure it’s much farther to the right than Is legal. He just backed out too soon. Does he have any kids?

  3. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-03-11

    Has anyone seen any other press coverage on SB 113? I know the budget and the sales tax cut are big stories, but restoring the ore-2006 six-month deadline for initiative petitions is historic. It is the first time in this century that the South Dakota Legislature has approved any legislation that makes it easier to put initiatives on the ballot. Everything else the Legislature has passed in recent memory related to ballot measures has imposed earlier deadlines, more delays for review, and other higher hurdles for putting issues to a vote. Even SB 113 isn’t perfect: as I mentioned, Republicans still snuck in the one-year deadline for submitting initiative language, a formal deadline that has never been observed before. But in the state that first authorized initiative and referendum, legislation that reverses that trend and opens the door for more direct democracy is a big deal and ought to get more attention and discussion.

  4. Jake 2023-03-11

    No, Cory, I haven’t.

  5. All Mammal 2023-03-11

    Mr. A- Rep. Hansen has brought two small, pre-K boys to work with him on the house floor. They were cute and sat very nicely by their dad’s desk. Not sure if the Mr. and Mrs. Hansen have other children.

  6. Scott McGregor 2023-03-11

    Would that this was the result of common sense but, alas, there is no indication of that as Rep. Hansen’s remark evidence.

  7. grudznick 2023-03-12

    An old fellow I knew, Stebbins was his name, always said it would come to this.

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