After record year, lawmakers limit resolutions

This morning, legislative leaders adopted new rules for next year that will limit the number of resolutions lawmakers can offer.

The restriction comes after a record number of resolutions were introduced in the House of Representatives, including 11 from Rep. Stace Nelson.

No one will be able to do that next year. Under the rules passed Tuesday by the Legislative Procedure Committee, lawmakers will be limited to introducing four concurrent (nonbinding) resolutions. And three of those have to be introduced before the start of the Legislature’s third week — the ninth day out of 35. This year lawmakers could introduce resolutions up to the 26th day. That will remain the deadline for lawmakers’ fourth and final concurrent resolution.

Now, rules like this wouldn’t necessarily have stopped Nelson from bringing all those resolutions. He’d have just had to get three allies to sponsor bills for him. That already happens with bills, where lawmakers are limited to just three bills in the days before the deadline. If one legislator has already hit his or her limit, they will commonly ask a friend to introduce a bill for them.

But next year’s lawmakers will also have more restrictions on the type of resolutions they can offer. In another rule change, resolutions will no longer be allowed to “memorialize” something or someone.

That would rule out some of Nelson’s resolutions this year, like one “commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812,” and the controversial one honoring former presidential candidate Ron Paul. Other non-Nelson resolutions would also no longer qualify, such as one “recognizing Hot Springs as ‘The Veterans Town’" and another honoring former President Calvin Coolidge.

But as Rep. David Lust noted, this restriction can be bypassed by clever legislators. Resolutions are still allowed if they’re instructing a department of state government or petitioning federal agencies, and a lawmaker could always phrase their resolution as a petition to Congress to honor the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

The leaders on the Legislative Procedure Committee, though, seemed to agree with Rep. Brian Gosch, who said the changes, “combined with some turnover in the Legislature,” probably address “the issue we had this year.”

Sen. Phyllis Heineman had another hope: if South Dakota passes fewer resolutions, she said, perhaps the ones that do pass will be seen with greater weight. As it is, Lust said Tuesday the Legislature could probably abolish concurrent resolutions altogether without any big effect, since they don’t have the force of law and are often ignored.

Lawmakers push back against governor on ‘Building South Dakota’

South Dakota lawmakers defended an economic development program they created last year from perceived encroachment by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Wednesday.

The Building South Dakota program, created by a bipartisan group of legislative leaders in 2013 with only reluctant support form Gov. Dennis Daugaard, spends millions of dollars each year on economic development incentives, career education, affordable housing and other areas.

But as part of complicated budget maneuvers, this year Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed replacing the ongoing funding stream for Building South Dakota with a one-time infusion of $30 million. In addition to giving Daugaard more funds for his priorities, this also removed his primary objection: Building South Dakota’s continual appropriation of large amounts of money from the state’s unclaimed property fund.

In a hearing Wednesday morning, the House State Affairs Committee approved Daugaard’s funding swap. They also agreed to a three-year cap on Building South Dakota’s spending at $10 million per year, part of an accounting mechanism so Daugaard’s $30 million infusion wouldn’t get automatically spent at once. But they drew the line at the governor’s proposal for a permanent $10 million yearly cap.

"To limit in perpetuity distributions from the Building South Dakota fund at $10 million is not appropriate," said House Republican leader David Lust, R-Rapid City.

Under the program’s structure, 30 percent of its funding is automatically spent every year on career education and other programs in local school districts. That’s true whether lawmakers give it $10 million or $100 million.

Daugaard’s budget director Jason Dilges said a cap would preserve money in the fund for the non-educational aspects of the fund: local development corporations, infrastructure, housing and other areas, which he called “the true economic development aspects” of Building South Dakota.

That drew criticism from Democrats, who said the educational aspects of the fund are among the most effective forms of long-term economic development.

"This is a sly way to take money away from education," said House Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton.

Under pressure from lawmakers, Dilges said proposed removing the $10 million cap.

"It would be very short-sighted of us to decide that we’re going to derail this proposal because of what’s going to happen three years down the road," he said.

The House State Affairs Committee then adopted a Lust amendment to remove the cap, before passing the bill.

Democrats on the committee voted no, saying the long-term provisions to fund Building South Dakota with budget surpluses are sufficiently complicated they could be manipulated with “sleight of hand budgeting.” But Hunhoff said Democrats support the concept.

Had lawmakers not approved Daugaard’s plan to replace Building South Dakota’s ongoing funding with one-time money, Dilges said schools and medical providers would have to fall from 3 percent funding bumps to 1.6 percent increases.

Flood of resolutions irks some lawmakers

Spencer Hawley was angry.

“I don’t know where to start,” the Democratic state representative from Brookings said Tuesday on the floor of the House of Representatives. “We spend an hour a day doing these resolutions that do nothing. … Don’t waste our time with something that has no impact on the people of South Dakota.”

Hawley’s outburst came amid a debate about a resolution opposing the Common Core State Standards. And he’s far from the only lawmaker upset this year at the elevated number of nonbinding resolutions, which declare the Legislature’s opinion but don’t carry the force of law.

There’s “a clear sense” that lawmakers have dealt with too many resolutions this year, said House Majority Leader David Lust, R-Rapid City.

Sen. Shantel Krebs, R-Renner, said she’s heard complaints from constituents about the time lawmakers spend on resolutions.

“I’ve never seen as many resolutions as I’ve seen this year,” said Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, who has served 20 years on and off in the Legislature since the 1970s.

In fact, this year’s 32 nonbinding resolutions are more than either chamber of the Legislature has seen in any year since 1988.

Of the 32, Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, is responsible for 11.

That’s more than all 35 members of the Senate combined have introduced this year, and more than the combined 70 members of the House — including himself — introduced in 2013.

“It’s my fourth year up here. It’s my final year in the Legislature. These are hot-button issues,” Nelson said.

But Nelson also is a candidate for U.S. Senate, running against four other Republicans for the GOP nomination.

Some lawmakers see his resolutions, on topics ranging from the Affordable Care Act to deficit spending to abortion, as spending the Legislature’s time on political gestures.

“Some people need to stop bringing resolutions that serve their own sole interests only,” said Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, in floor debate Wednesday afternoon on another Nelson resolution, honoring former presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Afterward, Nelson called Hajek’s comment “ignorant” and “inappropriate.”

He said his resolutions dealt with serious issues, or matters of concern to voters around the state.

But Nelson also has used his resolutions tactically in the Legislature. After lawmakers go on record endorsing a principle or concept in a resolution, on more than one occasion Nelson has called them out later when they oppose a bill dealing with a similar subject.

“That’s the theory behind some of these resolutions, to build consensus and education to the public and also the Legislature,” Nelson said.

Though Nelson has sponsored more, and more controversial, resolutions than anyone else, he’s not the sole contributor to this year’s swarm.

Even subtracting the Nelson-sponsored resolutions, the rest of the House members have sponsored more than any House since 2005.

The Senate, meanwhile, has just seven resolutions, similar to the six that senators introduced both in 2013 and 2012.

The experience this year of debating and voting on resolutions has lawmakers ready to put a stop to it. Lust said next year’s legislative rules will limit resolutions somehow — possibly moving up the deadline for their submission, or limiting the number each lawmaker can bring forward.

House revives anti-Common Core bill, lets death penalty repeal stay defeated

In a pair of “smokeout” votes, or attempts to bring bills to the House floor despite being killed in committee, the House of Representatives voted to revive an anti-Common Core bill by a slim margin.

But Rep. Steve Hickey had no such luck trying to get a second hearing for his death penalty repeal.

To revive a bill after it’s been killed in committee takes support from one-third of the House, or 24 lawmakers. They show their support by standing. If 24 stand, the committee is required to send the bill to the floor. Then a majority of the House has to vote again on the procedural question, to put the measure on the calendar. Only if that vote succeeds do lawmakers vote on the merits of the bill.

In practice, most lawmakers cast their votes on the bill’s merits even on the procedural decisions. Only a few lawmakers will vote against reconsidering a vote before turning around and supporting a measure on its merits. House Majority Leader David Lust is one of them — as majority leader, he fights to uphold the committee process and opposes all smokeout attempts. He did so today on the death penalty bill, despite noting that he had in fact voted for the measure in committee.

I took photos of the two smokeout events. Around 20 lawmakers stood for the death penalty repeal, short of the 24 needed. I count exactly 24 standing for Rep. Jim Bolin’s anti-Common Core bill.

Leadership splits

In this morning’s House State Affairs Committee vote on early school year starts, House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City, and House Majority Leader David Lust, R-Rapid City, spoke out on opposite sides of the issue.

Gosch and Lust are the top two ranked Republican lawmakers in the House, represent neighboring districts, and have served together for years. So it’s always interesting, if not surprising, when they end up differing.

Fortunately, I’ve got the stats on the subject, part of my legislative vote analysis from last month.

In 2013, Lust and Gosch were both participants in 379 votes. Of those, they agreed on 336 occasions, and differed on 43. That’s an 88.7 percent agreement.

In the South Dakota Legislature, 88.7 percent is a pretty high agreement. Gosch only voted with two lawmakers more often than he voted with Lust (Reps. Jon Hansen and Dean Wink). Lust only voted with four lawmakers more often than Gosch (Reps. Scott Munsterman, David Novstrup, Kristin Conzet, and — surprisingly — Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff).

There’s one thing Hansen and Wink have in common with Gosch, and the other four with Lust — they all serve on committees together. Serving on a committee means you have a lot more chances to vote the same way, since many of the votes on committees are either unanimously approved or unanimously rejected. 

Committee endorses ban on early school year starts

South Dakota schools should be blocked from starting their school years before late August, a legislative committee said Wednesday.

Several schools and a range of business figures urged a later start date, saying student workers should have more time to work in agriculture and tourism jobs that are often very busy in late summer.

"A lot of places in South Dakota, that middle to last part of August is the absolute best time to visit," said Michele Brich of the South Dakota Hotel and Lodging Association."

Groups also appealed to ag-related activities, such as the state fair and 4-H events, that happen in late August.

Of South Dakota’s 151 public school districts, 126 started this year before the last Monday in August. Under House Bill 1093, that would be the earliest students could start.

School groups opposed the law, saying each district should set the start time that works best for its needs.

School boards “look at where exactly they want to complete their program so it fits with their testing and school breaks,” said Dick Tieszen, a lobbyist for the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. “It’s not the same in every district… This is not a situation that requires the Legislature to impose its will.”

Rep. Christine Erickson, R-Sioux Falls, said it was too hard for citizens to impose their will on a school board that wants an earlier start date. In Sioux Falls, referring a decision of the school board to set a calendar requires thousands of signatures — 5 percent of the registered voters in the district.

"The people in my district… have been fighting this issue for many, many years," Erickson said.

But it was the appeals from business groups about the tourism and agriculture industries that seemed to persuade many of the committee. Representatives of the South Dakota Visitor Industry Alliance, South Dakota Retailers Association and South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry joined the Hotel and Lodging Association in supporting the bill.

"We have to look at the needs of all the state. We’re still a rural state," said Rep. Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City. "That shouldn’t be ignored because a smaller group of people in South Dakota decide that’s not important to them."

A majority of the committee agreed with Gosch, voting 8-5 to send the bill to the full House.

Dissidents, including majority leader David Lust, said the state shouldn’t limit school start dates.

"The best interests of the children should be preeminent, not the best interests of tourism or retailers," Lust said.

In the 1990s, South Dakota voters weighed in twice on school start dates — first adopting, and then rejecting, a limit on school starting before Labor Day.

Committee backs 12-year term limits

South Dakota lawmakers should be able to spend a few more years in the Legislature before being kicked out by term limits, a top legislative panel said Friday.

The proposed constitutional amendment would change South Dakota’s legislative term limits from eight consecutive years in each chamber to 12. If both houses of the Legislature pass the amendment, it would need to be approved by voters before it could become law.

"The short amount of (term limits) definitely hurts the legislative process," said Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka. "It takes out institutional knowledge."

There was no opposition testimony Friday, and good feelings on the House State Affairs committee considering the amendment.

Democratic leader Bernie Hunhoff praised both the amendment and his opposite number, Republican leader and committee chair David Lust.

"Our committee chair, he’s far from perfect… but clearly he’s a fine legislator, and what sense does it make to shove a David Lust out the door (after eight years)?" Hunhoff said. "It’s not doing the public any service."

Lust also backed the bill.

"I am a proponent of term limits, but eight years is really too short," Lust said. "Twelve years, I think, is a nice balance."

Lawmakers would still be able to switch from one chamber to the other after reaching their term limits.

South Dakota voters adopted legislative term limits in 1992 with 63.5 percent of the vote, on a measure that also included term limits for constitutional officers and members of Congress. In 2008, 75 percent of voters rejected a repeal of legislative term limits.

Voters have never been asked to weigh in about keeping but extending legislative term limits.

Also on Friday, the House State Affairs committee:

  • Unanimously approved adding the state’s budget commissioner to the South Dakota Investment Council.
  • Backed a bill adding teeth to the state gaming commission’s blacklist of cheating gamblers. If House Bill 1084 passes, it would be a misdemeanor for a banned gambler to enter a casino. Gaming commission executive secretary Larry Eliason said cheating wouldn’t apply to card-counters unless they used artificial aids.

Legislature set to investigate GOED

Legislative leaders from both parties are calling for an investigation into the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

In a resolution filed minutes ago, Democratic leaders Bernie Hunhoff and Jason Frerichs were joined with Republican leaders David Lust and Tim Rave in a call to activate the Joint Committee on Government Operations and Audit to hold hearings on GOED.

The investigation is to commence following the completion of the Department of Legislative Audit’s report, expected in a few weeks. The committee is asked to finish its report by Dec. 1, 2014, and within 30 days of its final hearings.

GOAC would be empowered to review all available audits and any additional information, order additional audits, summon witnesses and issue subpoenas and generally interview “persons involved in related economic development projects.”

The Government Operations and Audit committee consists of Reps. Dan Dryden, Melissa Magstadt, Justin Cronin, Mark Mickelson and Susan Wismer, and Sens. Larry Tidemann, Phyllis Heineman, Blake Curd, Jean Hunhoff and Angie Buhl. Dryden and Tidemann are the chairs.

The resolution still needs to be adopted by both houses. It does not require Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s signature. And while ordinarily resolutions have no force of law, last week Lust noted a resolution has more power when it concerns the Legislature’s own operations.

"If you have a resolution that’s passed that compels the legislature to do something, that’s imminently in our control," Lust said.

House-Senate disagreement sinks domestic violence reform

The two feuding sides on a domestic violence reform bill reached a compromise Wednesday — but a new objection coming out of left field sunk the effort and the bill.

A coalition including law enforcement, domestic violence shelters and a conservative activist organization had come up with a proposal to get rid of outdated language in domestic violence laws. Under the current language, fighting roommates could potentially draw domestic violence charges, while a dating couple who didn’t live together might not qualify.

The proposed version, making violence between couples in a “dating relationship” count as domestic violence, passed the Senate but met difficulty in the House, which preferred language referring to “persons living in the same household.” Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, then successfully put on language restrict that to “persons of the opposite sex” living together.

When a conference committee of the House and Senate met to hash out the differences Wednesday morning, however, the two opposing sides had come to an agreement.

“We wanted to narrow that scope of household to an actual relationship,” said Kaiser. “Quite frankly homosexual relationships wouldn’t be covered, and I feel they’re domestic relationships, when they get assaulted and beat up, they deserve the protections everybody does.”

The compromise, which was also endorsed by law enforcement and the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, would have defined domestic violence as including people “who are or have been involved in a significant romantic or sexual relationship.”

“Whether we like to admit it or not, domestic violence occurs when you have a relationship,” said Dianna Miller, lobbyist for the Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault. “It does not always have to be a married relationship. It does occur in a dating relationship, and we can’t ignore that.”

Kaiser agreed.

“I believe that language really hones down the scope for law enforcement and really puts the appropriate take on what a relationship is,” he said.

But two members of the conference committee weren’t on board.

Rep. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, argued that people accused of domestic violence are “guilty until proven innocent.” He proposed abandoning the proposed definition change and instead removing the language that requires law enforcement to arrest someone charged with domestic violence.

Giving law enforcement discretion about whether to arrest people charged with that crime would solve the problems related to the definition of the crime, Heinert and Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton said.

“The ramifications of getting tagged with a domestic violence is more than just a protection order,” said Stevens, a family law attorney. “We don’t have this problem at all… if we give our law enforcement the discretion to do the right thing.”

Other legislators disagreed.

Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City and a retired police officer, said before domestic violence charges required arrests, “no one got arrested.”

“We went in the same house six times a night and told them to break it up and get on with their lives, and they continued to beat the crap out of each other,” Tieszen said.

Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, urged the committee to pass the compromise, and then consider the mandatory arrest issue next year, if Stevens and Heinert wanted.

But Stevens and Heinert weren’t swayed. They voted against the compromise amendment, which got three yes votes and two no votes but lost because amendments need support from a majority of each house.

Afterwards, Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, gave up and moved to kill the domestic violence bill.

He and Miller said they were disappointed and upset with the bill’s failure.

“We have left them now with a law that now we’ve done nothing with and is confusing and will cause more problems than if we had narrowed the definition,” Miller said. “I think there are issues out there people aren’t being honest about and bringing up.”

This is the second year in a row that a proposed domestic violence reform fell victim to disagreements between the House and Senate. Last year a similar bill went to conference committee, but compromise language failed to get House approval.

House overwhelmingly approves ‘Building South Dakota’

By a 56-13 vote, the South Dakota House passed a complex, bipartisan economic development package Tuesday.

It was passed without amendment and will now head over to the Senate, where the bill’s sponsors plan on introducing an amendment to clarify and fix existing language.

The vote came after several proposed changes by Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, both rejected on voice votes.

Nelson asked the House to split the bill into multiple parts, arguing it was unconstitutional by containing multiple subjects. Other lawmakers disagreed, saying all the bill’s parts are related to economic development.

He also proposed an amendment adding new open meetings requirements, which a majority of lawmakers argued was unnecessary given existing open meetings law.

Outside of Nelson’s motions, there was very little debate on the bill. Rep. David Lust and Rep. Bernie Hunhoff spoke in favor of the bill as effective economic development, and Rep. Don Kopp spoke against it on the grounds that it contained too many subjects.

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