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Some South Dakota Legislators Want Us To Butt Out [OPINION]

by rick knobe
by rick knobe

Some South Dakota representatives seem determined to make it more difficult for citizens like you and me be heard.

While in Pierre last week I talked with several of our elected leaders about initiative and referendum. I heard three different ideas on “protecting the Constitution.”

First, raising the number of signatures required to put something on the ballot, including any changes to the state constitution. The “logic” put forth has to do with how “easy” it is to get things on the ballot, and how that ease makes us an easy target “for outside groups” to experiment with their ideas here.

Obviously, none of the people pushing this idea have been involved in getting an issue on the ballot. It is NOT easy.  Raising the number of signatures will ensure that only people and groups with lots of money (mostly from outside) will be able to get things on the ballot, freezing out local efforts.

Second, requiring a certain percentage of required signatures to come from each legislative district in the state. The “logic” is to force petition signers to go everywhere in the state to obtain them.

I wonder if they intend to have that apply to themselves in the precincts within their districts and for folks running for statewide office. I doubt it.

Third, increase the percentage vote to approve a change in the state constitution from a simple majority to 55%. The “logic” is to protect the sacred state constitution, from undue influence from “outsiders” and instate residents, too.

If this were in effect last year Amendment R, which the legislature wanted would NOT have passed, and Marsy’s Law would have passed anyway.

There may be other concepts floating around.

There is nothing wrong with our initiative and referendum process.

It is hard to gather signatures to put things on the ballot. Currently referring bad/stupid laws by the legislature has a very tight time frame. The number of signatures required to change the constitution is already much higher than initiating or referring laws.  Creating a super majority to change the people’s document (the constitution) runs counter to majority rule, a foundation of our democracy.

I know some legislators are mad at the voters. In November 2016, we had the nerve to overturn two of their poorly made decisions. The sub minimum wage for teens and candidate access laws.

We also passed a law which they had ignored for at least two sessions having to do with payday lending.

Finally, we had the audacity to approve a measure calling for the creation of an ethics panel and an update in some campaign finance laws.  Another issue which had not made it out of committee for years.

Two proposed constitutional changes to the way we set legislative district boundaries and elect our leaders almost passed. Political leaders and their minions are nervous. The voters are coming very close to loosening the strangle hold of one party incumbency and the duopoly in Pierre. How dare we?

I have two pieces of advice to offer.

First to our representatives in Pierre: Leave initiative, referendum, and the percentage to change the constitution alone. If you had been doing your job the past several sessions at least five of the issues put to the voters would not have been there. You chose to protect the status quo and your party rather than doing what is good for South Dakota.

Second to my fellow citizens: We need to be vigilant. There are some in Pierre who want more control. They want us to butt out.

Follow legislative news, check the status of proposed laws on the Legislative Research Council Website. Attend your local legislative coffees. Not to listen,  to but tell our representatives your expectations of their work on our behalf.

Finally, it is OK to trust some of what our Representatives say, but ALWAYS verify, by checking how they vote and holding them accountable.

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