We reach a momentous day in the world of direct democracy in South Dakota. December 1 is the day when the Republican Legislature has authorized the Legislative Research Council to ignore and effectively ashcan any citizen initiatives submitted for review until April, fifteen work days after the end of the Legislative Session. The theory is that the LRC will be so busy reviewing bills and doing other work for the legislators coming to Pierre January 9 that they just wouldn’t have time to read and helpfully comment on a handful of citizen proposals for the ballot. The 2024 Session ends March 25, so the LRC could sit on submitted initiative drafts until April 15. The Attorney General would then get 80 days to sit on initiatives while he cooks up titles and explanations and takes mostly useless public comment, and the Secretary of State would need a few more days to pull her head out of election-denying arse and approve the initiative petition for circulation.
Since the deadline for submitting signed initiative petitions is May 7, unless the LRC some special dispensation and whips out a review between Legislative bills this winter, no new initiative will have the time to get through the full review process and hit the streets in petition form before the May 7 deadline. Initiative sponsors have five more months and a week to circulate existing petitions, but they can’t cook up any new ideas to place on the 2024 ballot. Alas!
There will still be time for referendum petitions. If the 2024 Legislature passes any real stinkers, oppressed and objecting citizens may start circulating petitions to refer those stinky laws to a public vote after the Session ends. Citizens get 90 days to circulate referendum petitions; in the coming election year, referendum petitions must be submitted to the Secretary of State by June 24.
We can’t know how many referenda may be floated and placed on the ballot—again, that depends on the stinkiness of the 2024 Legislature and the gumption of the electorate. But with initiatives effectively cut off by the Legislature’s anti-democratic machinations, we can say that at most, we could have seven initiatives on 2024 ballot:
- An amendment to the South Dakota Constitution Establishing Top-Two Primary Elections.
- An initiated Amendment Establishing a Right to Abortion in the State Constitution.
- An Initiated Measure Prohibiting Taxes on Anything Sold for Human Consumption [Dakotans for Health also has an initiated amendment to this effect, but they are circulating only the initiated law petition].
- An Amendment to the South Dakota Constitution Revising Legislative Term Limits.
- An Amendment to the South Dakota Constitution Prohibiting the Legislature from Amending or Repealing Ballot Measures for Seven Years.
- An Initiated Measure Repealing South Dakota’s Medical Marijuana Program.
- An Initiated Measure Legalizing the Possession, Use, and Distribution of Marijuana.
The 2023 Legislature already placed one constitutional amendment on the ballot, Senator Erin Tobin’s 2023 Senate Joint Resolution 505, to gender-neutralize the pronouns and other language in the South Dakota Constitution. Legislators could surprise us and pile more amendments on the ballot during the upcoming Session.