PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Legislature opened a special session Tuesday morning on the possible impeachment of state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.
The House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for House Speaker Spencer Gosch to appoint a select committee of nine members to investigate whether Ravnsborg committed impeachable offenses.
The committee, which Gosch will chair, is assigned to look at what happened during the night of September 12, 2020, when the car Ravnsborg was driving struck and killed Joe Boever.
Boever was walking along US 14 at the west edge of Highmore.
Gosch said he would appoint House Republican leader Kent Peterson; House Democrat leader Jamie Smith; Democrat representative Ryan Cwach; and Republican representatives Mike Stevens, Steve Haugaard, Jon Hansen, Doug Barthel and Kevin Jensen.
Stevens, Haugaard, Hansen and Cwach are attorneys. Barthel is a retired Sioux Falls chief of police.
The resolution also calls for a special legal counsel chosen by the House speaker. The committee will set its own schedule and will report to the full House whether impeachment should be sought.
This is the first time the Legislature has formally considered impeachment of a statewide official. Ravnsborg wasn’t present.
The South Dakota Constitution lays out the impeachment process.
The constitution’s threshold for impeachment is a majority of at least 36 of the 70 House members. At that point the official facing impeachment must relinquish official duties. The process then moves to the Senate, which would hold a trial.
A two-thirds majority of at least 24 of the 35 senators is needed to convict. The suspended official can return to duties if the Senate acquits the official.
The House adopted a second resolution Tuesday that calls for the House to return 14 days after its chief clerk receives the committee’s report.
The resolution further says that, should the House approve articles of impeachment, the process would move to the Senate for a trial and the House would return on the day that the trial starts.
The House began the special session at 10 a.m. Peterson requested at 10:22 a.m. that Speaker Gosch call a recess so the House Republicans could privately caucus. They started returning to the House chamber at 11:11 a.m., many with sheets of paper in their hands.
Those sheets bore an amendment from Rep. Will Mortenson regarding the committee’s treatment of the materials. The amendment called for the public release of materials, with all confidential or nonrelevant information redacted. The amendment also called for all 70 House members to have access to all non-public information.
Peterson described the Mortenson amendment as friendly. “It’s good for the process,” Peterson said.
“We can only have a fair process if we have a transparent process,” Mortenson said. “This makes a good process better.”
The amendment passed on a voice vote.
Mortenson, along with Peterson and Smith, brought the original resolution on impeachment during the 2021 legislative session. Gosch later amended it down. The House voted 57-11 for the amended version.
The Senate adopted a resolution Tuesday calling for its members to return 14 days after the House clerk receives the committee’s report and any articles of impeachment.
As the House discussed the resolutions, watching from the gallery were the widow, Jenny Boever, and cousin Nick Nemec, who farms near Highmore.
“We’re delving into unknown territory,” Rep. Fred Deutsch said. He wondered what impeachable offenses are but voted for the resolution establishing the committee.
Ravnsborg had his attorney plead no-contest to two second-class misdemeanors. He received no jail time and never appeared in court on the charges. At one point his attorney suggested that Boever was suicidal and jumped in front of Ravnsborg’s car.
Representative Steven Haugaard voted against the committee resolution. He too asked what is an impeachable offense. “Does this fit at all?”