As House looks at impeaching South Dakota’s AG, Senate waits to see whether it gets a role

Capitol News Bureau
Jason Ravnsborg

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The chamber’s highest-ranking member said Sunday the South Dakota Senate isn’t changing its work schedule for the nine days left of legislative session, even though senators will be the jury should the House or Representatives vote to impeach Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

“The Senate isn’t making any plans that would affect our calendar in any fashion until we would know if in fact there was going to be articles of impeachment coming to us,” Lee Schoenbeck, the Senate president pro tempore, told KELOLAND News.

“Given the way the schedule works, that likely would not be in the main run of the session, but I don’t know. We don’t know if they’re coming, so we’re not going to disrupt any of our workload while we’re waiting to find out,” Schoenbeck, an attorney, continued.

The South Dakota Constitution states that a regular session of the Legislature may not exceed 40 days “except in cases of impeachment.”

The House State Affairs Committee meets Wednesday to consider the impeachment resolution that first-year Representative Will Mortenson, an attorney, introduced with the support of House Republican leader Kent Peterson and House Democratic leader Jamie Smith.

House Speaker Spencer Gosch wants the committee to amend the resolution and assign a panel of 10 representatives to look into whether the conduct of Ravnsborg surrounding the death of Joseph Boever on September 12, 2020, involved impeachable offenses.

Ravnsborg was driving his private car returning to Pierre from a political event in Redfield that night when he struck and killed Boever, who was walking on the north shoulder of US 14 just west of Highmore.

Ravnsborg told 911 he didn’t know what he hit. Boever had a flashlight that investigators said shined all night. Ravnsborg said he found Boever’s body the next morning. Investigators said the body was two feet off the side of the road.

Gosch wants the select House committee to report its findings and recommendations to the full 70-member House by March 29, the 37th and final day of the 2021 session.

The state constitution has a set of sections specifically on impeachment. The House needs a simple majority of 36 to impeach. Ravnsborg would have to stop official duties from the time he’s impeached until when, and if, the Senate acquits him. The Senate needs a two-thirds majority of 24 to convict on one or both of the articles.

One article states that Ravnsborg committed three separate crimes: a lane-change violation, operating an electronic device and careless driving. All are second-class misdemeanors, each punishable by up to 30 days in county jail and a $500 fine.

The second article states that Ravnsborg “committed crimes or misdemeanors in office associated with the investigation following the death of Joseph Boever.”

More specifically, the article says, “Following the collision, including during his reporting of the collision and the resulting investigation, Jason Ravnsborg undertook actions unbecoming the Attorney General. Jason Ravnsborg’s statements and actions failed to meet the standard of the Office of the Attorney General.”

Ravnsborg has continued to contend that he thought he hit an animal such as a deer.

The Republican has refused to resign despite the urging of Republican Governor Kristi Noem and South Dakota Democratic Party chair Randy Seiler, who lost to Ravnsborg in the November 2018 election, and a joint no-confidence statement Friday from South Dakota Fraternal Order of Police and the statewide associations representing chiefs of police and county sheriffs.

The governor has authority to appoint a replacement for the remaining year-plus of the term if Ravnsborg resigns. The Legislature hasn’t impeached an elected state official since South Dakota gained statehood in 1889.

Schoenbeck declined to comment Sunday about whether Ravnsborg should be impeached. “I don’t think it’s appropriate to,” Schoenbeck said.

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