State Travel Law Changes Spark Controversy
November 19, 2006, 7:53 PM
When South Dakota voters approved Initiated Measure 5, they added airplane restrictions to the law that limits state-owned vehicles to state business. But they also added a civil fine as a potential punishment to anyone who violates the law.
Now, the threat of being hit with a $1,000 fine has many state employees taking a close look at how they do their jobs as disagreement continues over how the law will be interpreted.
Governor Mike Rounds has to put extra thought into his pre-flight checklist when he uses the state airplane to travel now that voters have approved initiated measure five.
“Clearly, the Governor is concerned and I'm sure part of that concern is the new civil penalty and how that's going to affect travel,” said South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long.
Long says Rounds isn't only thinking of himself when he criticizes the changes to the law. Long says the law also makes people who drive state vehicles venerable to that civil fine, which could impact how state employees do business.
“I think it’s likely to change the dynamic of how state vehicles are used. I think you are likely to see a fair amount of people not choosing to drive state vehicles and simply choosing to drive their personal vehicles and be reimbursed for mileage for that,” Long said.
“All we're doing is saying if a state employee misuses a vehicle, the state should be paid back for that violation,” said
Reynold Nesiba who led the push to get voters to support the measure.
Nesiba stands behind Initiated Measure 5, saying the changes are simply about accountability and not about making it more difficult for state workers to do their jobs.
“If there is misuse of a state vehicle, whether it be a car or a state plane, the taxpayers of South Dakota deserve to be paid back,” Nesiba said.
“The author of the bill is not the last word on what it means, the courts are the last word on what it means so we won't know how all of this will shape up until after there's been a couple of definitive court decisions on this,” Long said.
“What Governor Rounds is overlooking here is that whoever the persecutor is is going to have discretion and I don't think Attorney General Larry Long will ever arrest Governor Rounds for stopping for a cup of coffee,” Nesiba said.
There is a possibility the law could be changed again during the upcoming legislative session.
Legislators have the power to examine and modify laws that are being interpreted differently than the author originally intended.
The legislature will reconvene on January 9th.
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