SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In a little more than two weeks, Brent Hoffman is hopeful the topic of term limits will join the issues of abortion, food sales tax and primary elections as an official possible 2024 ballot measure.
Hoffman, a Republican Senator representing District 9 in northwest Sioux Falls, has language for a Constitutional Amendment to limit state lawmakers from serving more than 16 years in the legislature.
Currently, the South Dakota Constitution prohibits more than four consecutive terms or a total of eight consecutive years in the Senate and House. Those rules came from a 1992 ballot measure, which passed by voters 63% (205,074) to 36% (117,702) changing the state’s Constitution.
“The people I report to in District 9, they have been frustrated to learn that people can switch chambers continuously and serve without limits in the legislature,” said Hoffman, who won the election last fall. “They would like to see genuine term limits in South Dakota and that’s why I brought the proposal forward.”
Hoffman said a person can serve “50 years or more in the legislature as long as it’s not continuous.”
“The only states that have term limits of any kind, whether weak or strong, are those that have the ballot initiative process,” Hoffman said. “Our state very much supports term limits, but term limits can only come through the ballot initiative process.”
Last week, Attorney General Marty Jackley released his initial draft summarizing the possible ballot measure. The public can provide written comments regarding Jackley’s draft explanation until June 5 and a final AG statement is due to the Secretary of State’s office on June 14.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 15 states have term limits for state lawmakers, and five states (Michigan, Missouri, California, Oklahoma and Nevada) have lifetime term limits. North Dakota passed a ballot measure on term limits in 2022 and looks to be the 16th state to have term limits and the sixth state to have a lifetime ban.
If approved by the Secretary of State’s office to start getting signatures, more than 35,000 signatures will be needed by May 2024 to put the question to voters. Hoffman called it “a daunting challenge.”
Opponents of term limits point to elections as a way to keep lawmakers from serving too long. In South Dakota, state lawmakers are up for reelection every two years. In 2008, a ballot measure looked to end South Dakota’s term limits for state lawmakers failed. Proponents of eliminating South Dakota’s term limits argued the state’s short legislative session and high turnover from elections gave more power to lobbyists.
“No matter what the proposal is, there will always be critics. I will always treat those people with respect,” Hoffman said. “No governmental institution will ever willingly limit its own power.”
There are four possible 2024 ballot measures currently approved by the South Dakota Secretary of State’s office to collect signatures – a Constitutional Amendment establishing a right to an abortion in the state, a Constitutional Amendment to create top-two primary elections and both a Constitutional Amendment and Initiated Measure to stop the sales tax on groceries.
Hoffman hopes term limits will be the fifth possible ballot measure for the 2024 election. He said once the petition is approved to start collecting signatures, a website will be launched and Hoffman encouraged people to reach out to him with any questions about the ballot measure.