Redistricting has S.D. Legislature hamstrung

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — State lawmakers left the Capitol Monday night far apart on where to put new boundaries for South Dakota legislative districts.

A House-Senate conference committee that was supposed to work out differences between rival plans never met.

The House State Affairs Committee meets at 8 a.m. Tuesday to hear the Senate’s plan.

The boundaries that eventually get chosen will be used in legislative elections across South Dakota for the next 10 years, starting in 2022. The Legislature takes up redistricting each decade, after the federal census has been completed.

Each chamber passed its own plan Monday. The House approved its Grouse 2.0 proposal on a 48-20 vote, while the Senate adopted its Blackbird 2.1 proposal on a 20-15 tally.

Those bills then crisscrossed the Capitol’s third floor to the opposite chambers. That’s when a stand-off that was already tense worsened.

Senator Mary Duvall gutted the Grouse plan and inserted Blackbird. Senators returned it to the House. Representatives voted 68-0 to not-agree with what the Senate had done and appointed a conference committee instead.

The House meanwhile never acted on the first Blackbird bill the Senate had sent over.

As a matter of legislative protocol, the House was supposed to announce a time and place for the conference committee to meet. But there was no announcement.

Some House Republicans such as Representative Drew Dennert, who was the force behind the Grouse plan, meanwhile started moving in and out of the office of House Republican leader Kent Peterson. Then the House went on supper break until 7 p.m.

The Senate came back at about 7 p.m. from its supper break. Not long after, Senate president pro tem Lee Schoenbeck announced the Senate was gaveling out for the night.

House Democrats also left the Capitol at about the same time.

Schoenbeck had some things to say about what was happening — or not happening — in the House. He told reporters that continuation of the deadlock could mean the South Dakota Supreme Court would have to decide the boundaries.

That’s never happened before.

Schoenbeck said the Grouse plan passed by the House doesn’t meet federal voting-rights requirements.

“They keep hanging around and shooting at Grouse, they’re going to be talking to the Supreme Court about Grouse,” Schoenbeck said, referring to a potential lawsuit.

House Republicans went into a closed-door meeting for more than an hour Monday night. Peterson was even-tempered in his comments to reporters afterward. “We’re working in good faith trying to get this thing done,” he said. “It takes two to tango, and we’re not to the finish line yet.”

The situation gets more complicated Tuesday, in part because of the Legislature’s schedule and in part because of a death of a former governor.

The Legislature will meet in a second special session, to begin considering the possible impeachment of state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. That begins at 10 a.m.

House Speaker Spencer Gosch is expected to appoint eight representatives and himself to serve as a special investigating committee. It will look at evidence, possibly subpoena witnesses and eventually make a recommendation, at a later date, to the full House about whether to impeach.

The Capitol rotunda will fill with guests at mid-day for a 1 p.m. memorial service for former Governor Frank Farrar. An honor guard brought his flag-draped coffin into the rotunda Monday evening.

Having special sessions on different topics on the same day also will cause some logistical issues for the Legislative Research Council, whose staff provide non-partisan services to lawmakers, because of the time needed to shut down one set of work and start another.

Schoenbeck said the Senate as a whole likely won’t be able to meet until 2 p.m. at the earliest.

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