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Column: State Legislature Should Be Full-Time

South Dakota State Capitol Building
US Park Service

PIERRE – There are few things more maligned than the professional politician. They are just about as popular as cockroaches, but unlike the unwelcome insects, full-time legislators would actually do the state of South Dakota some good.

The state legislature has just finished up their session for the year, and while there is some benefit to having lawmakers who have other jobs, and hence some connection to normal life, there is also reason to believe that moonlighters just can’t do the job right.

One problem is that since the legislature meets hot and heavy for 3 straight months, and for relatively low pay I might add, we have effectively cut out anyone from serving who cannot take 3 months off from their current job, or even if they could, can’t afford the pay cut.

Many people try their hand at a different job during their careers, if being a state legislator were a full-time gig, it could entice people to serve for a few years, then either keep going in politics or go back to their original careers. If the legislature paid the median income that prevails in the state, it would not only open it up to normal people who can’t afford to work 3 months for only $6000, but would also give them an incentive to keep the median income on the rise.

But you ask, won’t they just get comfortable and try to hang onto their seats forever? Term limits can take care of that; so they will either have to convince us that they deserve higher office, or find themselves unemployed.

Another issue is that the current schedule is rushed. There is a good reason to keep the budgeting process on a strict timetable, but why try to cram in decisions on other issues when meeting that deadline? Having to finish all the legislative business of the state in such a short window means that even well meaning lawmakers don’t have time to get up to speed on the issues, or even find out what their constituents think, and instead just go with their gut.

One example: A lot of the resistance to the proposed teen driving rules fell along the lines of ‘the parents should handle that’ or ‘my kid was driving around the farm when he was 8’. This is the epitome of gut level reaction to policy with no real research done. South Dakota has an atrocious rate of teen driving accidents, so the parents aren’t currently handling that well. Additionally, some kids having years of personal driving experience on the farm, where there is very little to run into, won’t bring back a single person who is killed by an inexperienced teen driver who didn’t get that kind of practice.

There are volumes of data available on the subject of teen driving, as well as lots of examples of what has worked in other states out there for anyone who is interested. One would hope that the reason the legislature shot down those proposed teen driving rules is that they were so rushed that they just didn’t have time to properly study the issue, because the alternative is that they simply don’t care about preventing unnecessary injuries and deaths.

We the people deserve legislators that will carefully consider the ramifications of their decisions, even if that means long hours of research and committee hearings. If we want that kind of commitment out of our politicians, we are going to have to hire them full-time and pay them appropriately.

Previous Column: Johnson Retirement Could Spell Trouble for Democrats

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossom and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.

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