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Joint Rule Amendments Let Legislature Tune Out Public Opposition, Exert Direct Rule-Making Power

As reported in Friday’s Senate Journal, the Legislature is considering a few changes to their Joint Rules. Noteworthily:

The House and Senate appear inclined to make it easier to ignore public testimony and ramrod bills without debate on the chamber floors. Joint Rules 13-1 and 13-2 govern the placement of bills and resolutions on the consent calendar. As implemented in past Sessions, the Joint Rules have said that if a bill receives no opponent testimony in committee and if the committee unanimously supports it, the committee may recommend placing the bill on the consent calendar. That means the bill is lumped in with a bunch of other apparently simple, uncontroversial bills which the House or Senate may then vote on all at once, without debate.

On Thursday, the Joint Committee on Legislative Procedure voted unanimously for Amendment B to the Joint Rules, which would strike from JR 13-1 and JR 13-2 the criterion that a bill must receive no opposing testimony in committee to qualify for the consent calendar. So if the Legislature considers, say, a bill to require Legislative approval of initiative petitions to place such measures on the general election ballot, and we faithful followers of Father Robert Haire all pack the committee room to testify against such Legislative overreach, the overreachers may all say, “More power for us? Huzzah!” and send that bill to the House or Senate for approval with no floor debate.

Along with this diminution of public power in the Legislative process, the Legislature may amend its rules to give itself more power over the Executive Branch. Amendment D to the Joint Rules would allow legislators to propose bills that repeal existing administrative rules or require Executive Branch entities to adopt new rules or rule changes with specific language.

Amendment F catches up with statute to give legislators more freedom in  proposing legislation that puts people in prison. Last Session, the Legislature swiftly and emergencetically passed 2023 House Bill 1003, which repealed the requirement that bills proposing penalties or otherwise affecting who goes to jail or prison and for how long get a prison/jail population cost estimate from the Legislative Research Council before receiving a final vote in committee or floor debate. Amendment F strips from the Joint Rules references to that repealed prison/jail population cost estimate.

While those three changes seek to make it a little easier for the Legislature to exert its will, Amendment C to the Joint Rules would make clear that certain actions should be harder to take. Amendment C adds a new rule requiring that any bill increasing a fee, imposing a new fee, or authorizing a state agency to increase or impose a fee must receive a two-thirds vote to pass. Raising taxes already requires a two-thirds vote, but every now and then, legislators confuse taxes and fees. Amendment C’s new rule would eliminate any such confusion and guarantee continuing minority rule by fiscal conservatives (whose conservativism, as Amendment F and 2023 HB 1003 indicate, takes a backseat to their authoritarian enthusiasm for putting people behind bars).

The House and Senate heard the Joint Rules Committee’s report Friday. They will vote on adoption of the Joint Rules with these amendments on Tuesday.


  1. Rambler 2024-01-13

    If I understand correctly, the legislature already has numerous ways to ignore any citizen (s) who disagrees with proposed laws heard in committee. What exactly does the majority fear that they want even easier methods to push bills through the Senate and House. Maybe some readers of the blog could enlighten me.

  2. Donald Pay 2024-01-13

    Amendment B is not good. If some member of the community thinks a bill is bad, and has the gumption to go to Pierre and testify against it at least give that person the respect of voting it up or down on the floor. I assume it is still possible for one legislators to request it be stripped from the consent calendar, so it may be handled that way.

    Amendment C is bad public policy. Majority rules.

    Amendment D is fine. It undoes something that is unconstitutional.

  3. V 2024-01-13

    If this passes, Noem will veto it because of Amendment D.

  4. Donald Pay 2024-01-13

    V, Just to be clear, these are amendments to the Legislature’s rules. The Governor has no say over these. Further a Governor has no role in signing or vetoing Constitutional Amendments, if these were Constitutional Amendments. If these were Constitutional Amendments they would go on the ballot and people would decide.

  5. Lee Schoenbeck 2024-01-14

    Amendment D is to clarify some prior confusion about whether a bill could be proposed to repeal a rule. It’s like C, a rule to clarify where that has been some confusion.
    The consent calendar rule change is because there are more times where a witness testifies as a commentator, not really an opponent, but you can’t sign up that way. So when it happens and there is no dissenting votes, the chair would have discretion to certify the bill for the consent calendar. Any member – just takes one – can still pull any bill off of the consent calendar and put it on the debate calendar.

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