PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The decision to withdraw IM 28 from the fall election ballot made a bit of South Dakota history.

It marks the first time someone has pulled an initiated measure after making the ballot in the seven election cycles since the Legislature passed the state law in 2009 as part of a bipartisan-backed set of reforms.

Rick Weiland of Sioux Falls sponsored the proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility to at least 133% of the federal poverty level, and up to 138%, from the current 100%.

But he chose to withdraw the proposed law after considering whether voters might be confused about having to decide twice on what appeared to be two similar ideas.

Voters will still have a yes or no choice on amending the South Dakota Constitution to accomplish the same thing this fall through Constitutional Amendment D. If approved, it would take effect July 1, 2023.

Secretary of State Steve Barnett validated Amendment D for the ballot on January 3, 2022. He validated IM 28 for the ballot on June 9, 2022.

Two days before IM 28 qualified, South Dakota voters had rejected an attempt by Republican legislators to make Medicaid expansion more difficult.

Voters in all but one of South Dakota’s 66 counties rejected Constitutional Amendment C; statewide, it lost 122,417 to 59,125.

Amendment C would have required a minimum of 60% support for any future ballot measure that raised or created a tax or required state government to appropriate at least $10 million more in any of the first five years.

The Legislative Research Council has estimated that expanding Medicaid eligibility would cost $297 million in the first year to cover 42,500 additional adults, with state government paying $32,566,000.

Republicans in the Legislature put C on the June 2022 primary ballot last year. Senator Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, led that maneuver in the Senate, and the resolution’s prime sponsor, Representative Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, convinced a majority of Republicans in the House to agree.

KELOLAND News emailed questions Wednesday to the two lawmakers. Schoenbeck, the Senate’s top-ranking member, deferred to Hansen. The House speaker pro tem hasn’t yet responded.

Weiland said in an interview Tuesday night that the defeat of Amendment C somewhat influenced his decision to eventually withdraw IM 28.

“Had the supermajority requirement passed, it would have been a steep hill to climb,” Weiland acknowledged. He said the public figured it out. “I actually thought the ‘no’ vote had more to do with the Legislature messing around with the citizen initiative process.”

He added, “It just didn’t pass the sniff test for 68% of the people who participated in that election.”  

Weiland continues to maintain that a constitutional amendment will be harder to pass, but the coalition that sponsored the amendment — South Dakotans Decide — with the addition of his group, Dakotans for Health, points to “a really good chance in November of getting it done.”

State Representative Jamie Smith of Sioux Falls, the Democrats’ candidate for governor, strongly supports the expanded eligibility. Republican Governor Kristi Noem has warned it would cost more than expected and could drain money from other programs.

While in the South Dakota House in 2009, then-Representative Noem called for passage of the legislation that included the withdrawal provision.

Weiland’s group hasn’t done any recent polling on Medicaid eligibility expansion. “We polled last year, and the numbers we got at the time were encouraging,” he said. South Dakota is one of 12 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid eligibility. All of South Dakota’s neighboring states with the exception of Wyoming have.

Weiland said South Dakotans are already paying for it. “It just makes perfect sense to bring back our tax dollars and invest them for hard-working folks in South Dakota who can’t afford private insurance,” he said.