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.