- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota lawmakers took the first step Monday to repeal an embattled government ethics overhaul approved by voters in November.

The House and Senate State Affairs committees held a joint hearing on the proposal, which the House panel voted to send to the chamber’s floor. The bill would dismantle the initiative that created an ethics commission, public campaign funding and limitations on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.

A little over 51 percent of voters supported the initiative, and backers have criticized the Legislature for working to overturn the result of the election. The bill is a “one-sided attempt to thwart the will of the voters,” said Mitch Richter, a lobbyist for supporters of the ballot measure.

Before the legislative session, a group of two dozen GOP legislators and others challenged the measure’s constitutionality in state court, which put the initiative on hold while the lawsuit moves forward. South Dakotans for Integrity, a political committee that supported the initiative, is asking the state Supreme Court to allow them to join the lawsuit.

“It didn’t take very long for the judge to determine that this is likely unconstitutional,” said Republican House Speaker Mark Mickelson, a bill supporter and plaintiff in the case.

House State Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Rhoden, the bill’s prime sponsor, said it’s important to remember that the citizens of South Dakota have no more right to pass an unconstitutional law than lawmakers do in the Legislature. House Majority Leader Lee Qualm said lawmakers took an oath to uphold the constitution.

“We need to get rid of this as quickly as possible,” he said.

Doug Kronaizl, a spokesman for pro-initiative group Represent South Dakota, said it’s “abundantly clear” voters are opposed to legislative tampering.

The group is a local chapter of Represent.Us. The Massachusetts-based organization works to reduce the influence of money in politics and pumped funding into the South Dakota ballot measure campaign.

The group has spent over $21,000 so far in January. Their efforts include newspaper, radio and online advertisements, mail pieces and telephone calls, according to secretary of state’s office records.

Roxanne Weber, a Pierre resident who supports the measure, said during the hearing that it appears there’s no accountability for lawmakers.

“I won’t forget that, and I know the 180,580 people who voted this measure in, they’re not going to forget that either,” she said.

The bill, which is sponsored by nearly 50 of 70 representatives and 27 out of 35 senators, requires a two-thirds margin in each chamber to pass. Bill opponents say the emergency provisions in the bill would also block it from being referred to the ballot.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has criticized the campaign to pass the measure as deceptive and said voters were “hoodwinked.” An aide to Daugaard said he supports the bill, which would go into effect immediately if it’s signed into law. Chief of Staff Tony Venhuizen said the governor wants to work with lawmakers this session to come up with a replacement for the initiative.

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