More steps for S.D. ballot measures for 2020, as two marijuana proposals await signature checks

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Petition sponsors, signature gatherers and South Dakota Secretary of State staff are facing more hurdles on whether a ballot measure qualifies for the 2020 election.

The Legislature decided this year that people who circulate petitions had to first register with the Secretary of State office. And they had to do it for every measure they planned to seek signatures. They also had to offer a written summary to every person they asked to sign.

Petition sponsors also came under new requirements. They had to provide the Secretary of State office with a list of who’s gathering signatures for each measure. And they had to report whether those people would be paid.

Now comes the next test for the Secretary of State elections office, as the staff matches up the lists on two proposals, both for legalizing marijuana but with different intents.

“It’s added a step to our process,” Christine Lehrkamp, a state elections official, said Tuesday.

One is an initiated measure that would legalize marijuana for people to ingest for medical uses. An initiated measure needs at least 16,961 valid signatures of South Dakota registered voters for the 2020 ballot.

Sponsor Melissa Mentele of Emery, whose measure describes itself as “compassionate cannabis,” estimated her petitions had 35,180 signatures since she received the official green light August 15 to start circulating them.

The other is a constitutional amendment that would open marijuana up for recreational use by people age 21 and older and charge an additional 15 percent tax. It needs at 33,921 least valid signatures from South Dakota registered voters to get on next year’s ballot.

Its sponsor, Brendan Johnson of Sioux Falls, is a former U.S. attorney for South Dakota. Johnson estimated 53,377 signatures were gathered since he received the approval stamp September 12.

The 15 percent excise tax, combined with sales tax and licensing fees, along with a reduction in incarceration costs, would net state government more than $10.7 million in fiscal 2022 and more than $24 million in fiscal 2024, according to official estimates prepared by state government’s Legislative Research Council.

Both sets of petitions arrived at the Secretary of State office on Monday a few hours before the 5 p.m. CT filing deadline: Eight boxes from Mentele at 1:18, then Johnson’s sixteen at 1:44.

The petitions will be handled in the order they arrived, according to Secretary of State Steve Barnett.

His staff, because of the new law, must first compare names of people who circulated petitions with people who registered to circulate. Any signatures gathered by people who didn’t register won’t count.

Then comes a complicated series of steps: Indexing the signature sheets, determining each sheet’s number of filled-in signature lines, setting up the random-sample calculation, running the sheets, checking results and finally determining, statistically, whether a measure has enough valid signatures.

From there the petition sponsor will be notified, either way, followed by a public announcement about whether the measure qualified for the ballot.

There’s another wrinkle. The Legislature has a study committee putting final touches on a proposal for the 2020 session that would legalize industrial hemp, months before voters mark ballots for the November 3 election.

Governor Kristi Noem vetoed an industrial hemp bill in the 2019 session, after voting as a U.S. House member for the 2018 federal farm bill that included legalizing industrial hemp if the THC level is less than 0.3 percent.

She hasn’t explained her yes vote to KELOLAND News. Neither have South Dakota’s two U.S. senators, John Thune and Mike Rounds, who also voted for the farm bill.

The Legislature’s study panel, chaired by House Republican leader Lee Qualm of Platte, plans to meet December 2 at the Capitol, one day before the governor makes her budget recommendations. State officials expect revenue to be tight, given the wet weather that kept farmers from planting millions of acres of crops.

The state lawmakers had been waiting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release industrial-hemp rules. Those came out Monday.

Noem responded with a statement Tuesday morning. The governor said she’s still opposed, because she believes legalizing industrial hemp would lead to legalizing marijuana.

But, she said, her administration is working on regulations that would allow industrial hemp to be transported through South Dakota.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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