PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A measure that would make it harder to change the South Dakota constitution passed its first legislative test Monday, but the proposal still must make it through the full Legislature and earn voter approval to take effect.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted 6-2, with only Republican support, to advance the resolution to the full chamber. Sen. Jim Bolin, its sponsor, said the measure is designed to add additional safeguards for the state constitution.
He said it’s is a “legitimate and desirable method of protecting our fundamental political document.”
It would put a constitutional amendment before voters this year that would increase the majority vote threshold required for a constitutional change to at least 55 percent of the votes cast on an amendment.
A task force on the ballot question process endorsed the plan after Bolin proposed a similar measure during the 2017 legislative session that was set aside in committee. The Republican lawmaker said he’s more confident this year’s push will be successful.
Republicans have discussed changes to the ballot question system after the 2016 election season brought 10 questions and millions of dollars from out-of-state groups. Bolin said the use of paid petition circulators, people from outside South Dakota to secure the signatures necessary to get on the ballot and out-of-state money to sway public opinion make his proposal necessary.
“We believe that amending the constitution should not be a cakewalk,” said Jim Hood, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Retailers Association. “As history illustrates, once an idea is enshrined in our constitution, it is rarely repealed.”
But opponents argued that the proposed amendment could hamper direct democracy in South Dakota.
Rob Timm, president and CEO of the Chiesman Center for Democracy, said it’s a potential erosion of freedoms afforded by the state constitution and a “potential assault on our direct democracy.” Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba said last session’s repeal of a government ethics initiative that voters imposed in 2016 caused a lot of anger and disgust.
“Bringing this up right now, a year after we had that contentious conversation, is really horrible timing and is disrespecting the people’s voice in South Dakota,” Nesiba said.
The Senate panel also voted 8-1 Monday to approve a bill sponsored by Nesiba on state campaign finance rules. The measure aimed at requiring ballot measure campaigns to disclose their donors while supporters gather signatures to get on the ballot is headed to the full Senate.
It would require initiative campaigns to submit finance reports by July 1 in odd-numbered years when supporters collect signatures needed to get on the ballot. Current rules don’t require ballot question campaigns to disclose their donors until long after they’ve submitted signatures to the state.
“In fact, all of the initiated measures that are in front of the Secretary of State’s office right now, that she is processing and putting together, we don’t know who paid for the campaign to circulate the petitions,” Nesiba said. “We don’t find out until afterwards.”
Nesiba drafted the legislation after being contacted by The Associated Press about the issue.
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