- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A Republican-backed bill that would dismantle a voter-approved government ethics overhaul passed Tuesday through the House, where GOP lawmakers decried the ballot measure campaign as deceptive and said the initiative is likely unconstitutional.

The chamber voted 54-13 for the repeal bill, which would remove from law 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 ballot measure, called Initiated Measure 22, and backers have criticized the Legislature for working to overturn the result of the November election.

Democrats in the minority urged Republicans controlling the House not to sweep away the initiative.

“The perception is that this legislature is running head over heels, just as fast they can, to get repealed what the voters voted on,” Democratic Rep. Susan Wismer said.

The repeal bill, which is sponsored by nearly 50 of 70 representatives and 27 out of 35 senators, is barreling through the Legislature. It now heads to the Senate, where a Wednesday hearing was scheduled before it had passed out of the House. Senate President Pro Tempore Brock Greenfield, the bill’s main sponsor in that chamber, said he hopes it’s on Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s desk by the end of the week.

“People knew the political nature of the bill and would just as soon deal with it,” Greenfield said.

The bill requires a two-thirds margin in each chamber to pass. An emergency provision means it would take effect immediately, and foes say that would also block voters from referring it to the ballot.

Initiated Measure 22 has been in the crosshairs since before the session started. A group of two dozen GOP legislators and others filed a lawsuit in November challenging the measure’s constitutionality in state court. A judge put the initiative on hold while the lawsuit moves forward.

Republican Rep. Larry Rhoden, the repeal bill’s prime sponsor, said the top reason to remove the law is that it’s “simply unconstitutional.” Dismantling it would clear the way for discussions on how to replace the initiative, he said.

Daugaard has said he will support efforts to repeal and supplant the initiative. Lawmakers have filed several potential replacement proposals, including a measure that would tighten restrictions on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and a bill that would establish a state government accountability board.

The board, which would be attached to the attorney general’s office, would review and investigate issues ranging from bribery to theft of public funds. Republican House Speaker Mark Mickelson, a sponsor of both bills, said lawmakers are pursuing replacements that are constitutional and that don’t come with the unintended consequences attached to Initiated Measure 22.

Doug Kronaizl, a spokesman for pro-initiative group Represent South Dakota, said lawmakers should work with the initiative, since it was passed by the voters.

“We’re focusing right now on fighting the repeal,” he said. “If legislators choose to repeal a voter-enacted law with an emergency clause, then we’ll start taking a look at what comes next.”

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

The group has spent over $23,000 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.

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