PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota voters won’t have to decide how frequently they want to see ballot measures that are “substantially similar” one election after another.
The proposal from Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch was set aside Friday. The House State Affairs Committee rejected HJR-5001 by a 10-2 vote.
Deutsch wanted voters to amend the South Dakota Constitution and add, “No constitutional amendment initiated by petition that has been determined to be substantially similar to an initiated constitutional amendment that was previously voted on and rejected by the electors of this state may be submitted to a vote of the electors until at least one intervening general election has taken place since the election in which the initiated constitutional amendment was last rejected.”
The issue of whether recreational marijuana should be legalized in South Dakota led to his proposal. Voters approved Constitutional Amendment A in 2020, but the South Dakota Supreme Court declared it invalid afterward. Voters rejected an initiated measure in November; Deutsch was treasurer for a group that worked to defeat it. Supporters said they would try again in 2024.
“This resolution is not about marijuana. That’s just the reason, the concept, that brought it forward,” Deutsch told the committee Friday. “It gives the voters the chance to tell us what they want.”
His proposal also sought to have the attorney general make the decision whether a new ballot measure was “substantially similar” to one that had previously been defeated. Deutsch said he contacted Secretary of State Monae Johnson but she said her staff was too small for the additional responsibility.
No one else testified in support or against. But committee members had plenty of questions, including whether “substantially similar” was too vague.
“That’s a hang-up for me,” Republican Rep. Roger Chase said. Deutsch didn’t disagree: “Same thing for me – how do we find a better word?”
Republican Rep. Rebecca Reimer said it’s difficult to prove what “substantially” means in a contract. “That may be why the secretary of state doesn’t want to be involved, because how do you prove that?”
Deutsch responded that he put the proposal “before plenty of lawyers” and their opinions didn’t agree. He said there was consensus that “substantially similar” was “the appropriate use of terminology.”
Republican Rep. Becky Drury said she was hesitant because the proposal dealt with election law “and there’s nobody here to weigh in” on that. “This impedes people’s rights to go out and try to change the law. I just don’t really want to impede people’s rights to bring measures,” Drury said.
Republican Rep. Jon Hansen wanted to keep the proposal alive. He pointed to words in the U.S. Constitution such as “unreasonable” and “arms” that aren’t defined either. Courts have defined those, according to Hansen.
Republican Rep. Rocky Blare said lawsuits would result if voters approved Deutsch’s proposal. “As I tell people, be careful what you vote for,” Blare said.