PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A bill aimed at stopping the “mess” of public money being used for legal expenses on both sides of voter-passed initiated measures has cleared the South Dakota Senate.  

On Tuesday, Senators voted along party lines to pass Senate Bill 86, which will “revise certain requirements regarding the review of initiated amendments to the Constitution.”

The bill would call for the director of the Legislative Research Council and the South Dakota Secretary of State to determine whether a proposed initiative addresses only one subject. The secretary of state would be required to allow only single-subject initiatives on the election ballot.

If the secretary of state does not certify an initiated amendment to the Constitution pursuant to the single-subject rule, sponsors of a Constitutional Amendment may directly appeal the secretary of state’s decision to the Supreme Court within fifteen days after receiving notice from the secretary of state.

On Tuesday, Senate sponsor Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) said the state Constitution is the “will of the voters.” He said the bill will make sure the “will of the voters expressed in our constitution aren’t messed with by people who disregard our constitution.”

Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) was one of three Senators to vote against SB 86. He said when the legislature looks to change the initiated measure process it walks “on thin ice.”

“We already have a cheap and a convenient way to stop expensive lawsuits. It’s called respect the will of the voter,” Heinert said.

In a committee hearing last week, House sponsor Rep. Will Mortenson (R-Pierre) said the battle over Amendment A (legal marijuana) “uncovered a mess” with public money being used for legal expenses on both sides.  Mortenson pointed out the ballot measure process in South Dakota has been subject to litigation three consecutive cycles in a row, costing South Dakota taxpayers. 

“We need to do better. We have to clean this up,” he told the Senate State Affairs Committee. “After the people vote and express their will, we can’t have the lawsuit filed at that point. This just tries to clean this process up.”  

Senate sponsor Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) said SB 86 is the most user-friendly way to determine what is one subject by the State Supreme Court “on the front end.” It aims to end the legal battle before signatures are garnered and the measure is placed on the ballot.  

Rebecca Terk, a lobbyist with Dakota Rural Action, opposed SB 86. She said any group looking to propose ballot measures would get legal opinions before gaining signatures.  

In 2018, lawmakers approved the “single-subject rule” and Terk recalled asking how would the single-subject rule get applied or enforced? Lawmakers responded at the time saying the “courts would decide,” Terk said.  

She added the secretary of state should not be determining what is single-subject and what is not.

SB 86 will now move to the House.