VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) — In his seven years in the Senate, Vermillion Sen. Arthur Rusch says he has seen maybe one or two bills ‘smoked out’ or brought back on the floor after being killed in committee, each year. Now, in the last few days the Senate has seen rule 7-7, the ‘smoke out’ rule, used successfully four times.
“In the past, senators have been pretty reluctant to vote yes on smoke outs,” Rusch said.
Rusch attributes this rise in use of the ‘smoke out’ rule, in part, to the sensibility of the Senate Judiciary committee. He is the chairman of that committee.
“We’re turning down a lot of bills that shouldn’t see the light of day,” Rusch said.
Even though the committee is turning down bills for sound reasons, other legislators want them back, he said.
Two of the four bills smoked out this session, House Bills 1140 and 1212, were killed off in the Senate Judiciary. HB 1140 seeks to prohibit Game, Fish and Parks officers from entering private land without permission, while HB 1212, a ‘stand your ground’ bill, seeks broaden the situations in which a civilian is legally allowed to use deadly force.
Rusch says both of these bills have serious issues.
On Thursday, before voting to defer the bill to the 41st day, effectively killing it, Rusch criticized HB 1212 for seeking to make major changes to current laws, erasing precedents and seeking to deter lawsuits.
On Friday, he spoke on HB 1140, the bill related to private land and the GFP, saying “The fact is that the soul person that it protects is the poacher.”
Lately, says Rusch, more senators seem willing to support the ‘smoke outs’ even though some have told him they don’t intend to support the bills once they come to the floor.
In the midst of an attempt to resurrect a bill on Thursday, Rusch voiced his frustration, questioning the point of committees if the Senate planned to maneuver around their decisions.
“If the floor is going to make the decision on all these bills, about whether they get passed or not and you’re going to ignore what the committees recommend,” he says, “Then why have committees.”
But committees are important, says Rusch. “The floor, I mean, they can’t possibly have the hearing because they can’t hear the witnesses. They can’t possibly have the knowledge that the committee members do, and so the result is they’re making decisions based on inadequate knowledge, and I don’t think those are as good decisions as what the committee makes who has heard the testimony.”
A large part of the Senator’s frustration stems from the limited amount of time the Legislature has to finish it’s work. “We have big big budget issues that have got to be addressed this week,” said Rusch, “and instead of addressing the budget issues, we’re addressing these that have been smoked out instead.”
“I think the Senate ought to be using that very sparingly,” said Rusch about the ‘smoke out’ rule.
Rusch said he thinks an possible change to the rule it is unlikely. “I think it is abused in this case, but I think the rule is an important rule.”