Senators want SD voters to decide in June, not November, on 60% threshold for taxes, spending

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Senators had no ayes to spare Tuesday as they proposed asking South Dakota voters in the June 7, 2022, primary election to set a higher threshold for passing some ballot measures.

Specifically, they want to require 60% support for passage of any constitutional amendment, initiated measure or legislative referral that would add taxes, raise taxes or obligate state government to spend $10 million or more over the next five years.

The 18-17 vote sends HJR 5003 back to the House to see whether 36 of the 70 representatives there agree the proposed constitutional amendment should be on the June ballot. House members had passed the resolution 56-12 last month proposing the question be on the November 8, 2022, ballot.

The Legislature put Marsy’s Law cleanup on the June 2018 ballot. There were several special elections on ballot measures in 1993 and 2001. Senate president pro tem Lee Schoenbeck used an obscure process in the legislative Redbook on Tuesday to ask 34 other senators to suspend the rules so he could replace ‘general’ with ‘primary.’

“It does not belong in the primary. It’s way too important,” Senate Democrat leader Troy Heinert argued. Countered Schoenbeck, “This comes to us so we can have one more protection built into our election process.”

If voters back the 60% threshold, Reynold Nesiba said, another vote on recreational marijuana, similar to Amendment A that voters approved with 54% support last November, and is now being challenged in state court by the governor, probably wouldn’t succeed, because it would spend money. “It’s darn hard to put a measure on the ballot and get it passed,” Nesiba said. As for the right to vote overall, he added, “We’ve been eroding it all session.”

Mike Diedrich supported the resolution in committee because at that point it would have applied only after the 2022 general election. Diedrich said he couldn’t support putting it on the 2022 primary ballot because it would take effect July 1 and apply next fall to the 2022 general election.

Two proposed measures on Medicaid eligibility are circulating for voters’ signatures to make the November 2022 ballot. Opposition from Republican lawmakers kept then-Governor Dennis Daugaard from pursuing Medicaid expansion last decade. “This is bad faith to cut off the process they entered into in good faith,” Diedrich said. “It’s unfair to the people who are following the laws.”

Julie Frye-Mueller agreed that groups with measures “already in the pipeline” shouldn’t face additional interference. Heinert pointed out that 154,328 people voted in South Dakota’s 2020 primary, compared to 427,529 in the 2020 general. He said moving the 60% question to the June 2022 primary would be unfair to several hundred-thousands of voters who normally vote only in general elections. “We are cutting our people off at the knees. We all get elected by a simple majority. All you have to do is win by one vote,” Heinert said. “This is bad legislation. I urge this body to stop the movement of this.”

Schoenbeck in closing said the Legislature needs a two-thirds majority — 66.7% — to levy a new tax or raise a tax or pass a special appropriations bill and requiring 60% for ballot measures that do the same is still a lower threshold. He said voters currently can pass taxes or spend money through the ballot with only a simple majority of 50% plus one. “So it’s putting safeguards in place for the taxpayers of South Dakota that are better than they are now,” he said.

As for another Amendment A, Schoenbeck said, “Recreational marijuana is not involved in this as long as they follow the constitution.” That was a reference to the circuit judge’s ruling Amendment A shouldn’t have been on the ballot because it didn’t follow the process for a revision to the South Dakota Constitution. He said requiring 60% doesn’t change how a measure gets to the ballot.

The roll call went back and forth until the final three names. David Wheeler and John Wiik sealed the decision with two ayes. Larry Zikmund said no. He had been a co-sponsor when the resolution still called for the 2022 general election.

Throughout the debate, one of the governor’s new aides, Allen Cambon, watched from upstairs in the back of the Senate gallery. When Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden brought down the gavel declaring it had passed, he left. 

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