A perpetual argument in South Dakota (and other states) is whether large, complex bills violate the requirement in the South Dakota Constitution that measures address only a single subject.
I’m not an attorney, but here’s what the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled on the subject in Simpson v. Tobin (1985), emphasis mine:
VIII. Does House Bill 1266 embrace more than one subject and embrace a subject not expressed in its title, and is it thus constitutionally prohibited legislation?
The title to House Bill 1266 reads as follows:
An Act to permit professional service contracts with local officers, to permit counties to contract with part-time state’s attorneys for legal services outside the scope of state’s attorney’s statutory duties, to permit extra compensation and to limit circuit court review of county commission action to existing statutory appeals.
Article III, § 21 of the South Dakota Constitution provides: “No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title.”
We just recently enunciated the general legal principles involved in attacks on constitutionality of statutes as it concerns the mandate expressed in Article III, § 21. In Independent Community Bankers, (supra) , we said that every legislative act is accorded a presumption in favor of its constitutionality and that this presumption is overcome only by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it violates fundamental constitutional principles. Article III, § 21 does not require that the title index the contents of the Act and there is no restriction on the scope of a single subject provided it is encompassed in the title. If the provision of the Act fairly relates to the subject, it will meet constitutional requirements. Objections to a legislative a legislative act on the grounds that it embraces more than one subject not adequately expressed in its title should be grave, and the conflict between the statute and the constitution must be plain and manifest, before it may be justifiably declared unconstitutional and void. We also held that sound policy and legislative convenience dictate liberal construction of the title and the subject matter in reviewing compliance with Article III, § 21.
There are eight (8) separate sections to House Bill 1266. The trial court determined that Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Act properly relate to subjects expressed in the title. However, the trial court determined that Section 7 of the Act injected a new subject, and its import was not fully expressed in the title.
Section 7 reads as follows:
That chapter 7-8 be amended by adding thereto a new section to read as follows:
Appeal to the circuit court from decisions of the board of county commissioners, as provided in this chapter, is an exclusive remedy. Judicial review of county commissioner action shall be allowed only as provided in §§ 7-8-27, 7-8-28, 7-8-29, 7-8-30 and 7-8-31.
The purpose of Article III, § 21 was stated in Independent Community Bankers, (supra) , and which is consistent with a long line of our cases, to be as follows:
- prevent combining into one bill several diverse measures which have no common basis except, perhaps their separate inability to receive a favorable vote on their own merits;
- prevent the unintentional and unknowing passage of provisions inserted in a bill of which the title gives no intimation; and
- fairly apprise the public of matters which are contained in the various bills and to prevent fraud or deception of the public as to matters being considered by the legislature.
We have held that the single subject requirement is a direct, positive and imperative limitation upon the power of the legislature. State v. Morgan, 2 S.D. 32, 48 N.W. 314 (1891). Further, that where the courts of this state find that an act of the legislature contains more than one subject, it is their plain duty to declare the act of no effect and let the consequences be what they may. Metropolitan Casualty Insurance Company v. Basford, 31 S.D. 149, 139 N.W. 795 (1913).
House Bill 1266 purports to amend seven separate existing statutes. These statutes are: SDCL 6-1-2, SDCL 7-16-6, SDCL 7-16-18, SDCL 7-16-23, SDCL 7-16-8, SDCL 7-16-9. It adds a new section to chapter 7-8 with Section 7 of the Act governing appeals from decisions of the county board of commissioners.
The subject of a law is “the public or private concern for which the law is enacted, and all provisions of the Act must relate directly to the same subject, have a natural connection, and not be foreign to the subject as stated in the title.” McMacken v. State, supra, at 138. This court has stated in State v. Youngquist, 69 S.D. 592, 594, 13 N.W.2d 296, 297 (1944), that the subject of a statute “is singular when a number of things constituting a group or class are treated as a unit for general legislation.” Sections 1 through 6 clearly have a natural connection with professional service contracts with political subdivisions, and with the part-time state’s attorney’s duties as a public official of the county. However, Section 7 of the Act has no natural connection with the other provisions of the Act, since its effect is to limit taxpayer remedies in all cases, not only in those situations set out in the Act, but to all an asundry of taxpayer actions. Furthermore, the title of the Act does not express this subject comprehensively enough so as to put a person on notice of a germane subject in the body of the statute. McMacken, (supra) . Section 7 of the Act clearly abolishes common law taxpayers’ actions for misappropriated public funds. We agree with the trial court, that by adding a new section to Chapter 7-8, declaring an appeal from county commission action as an exclusive remedy, effectively abolished common law taxpayer actions for misappropiated public funds, and that this subject was not fairly expressed in the title to the Act.
Common law taxpayer actions are of vital importance to the public at large. Without such actions, a large body of governmental activity would be unchallengeable in our courts. Section 7 of House Bill 1266 would sweep away this important right without proper notice in the title of the Act, and is therefore in violation of Article III, § 21 of the South Dakota Constitution.