With days running short, S.D. lawmakers are still deadlocked on redistricting

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Supreme Court’s five justices might have another matter thrust onto their busy plates — drawing new boundaries for the Legislature’s 35 districts.

That’s because Republican legislative leaders remained in a stand-off Friday morning, with the Senate favoring one proposal and the House of Representatives preferring another, just 72 hours before the two chambers are supposed to come together to make a decision.

The Legislature meets at 10 a.m. Monday at the state Capitol in Pierre for its special session on redistricting.

The South Dakota Constitution requires the Supreme Court to take up the duty of legislative reappointment if majorities in the two chambers can’t agree.

A lot is at stake, because the new boundaries will apply for the next 10 years of legislative elections, starting with the 2022 races. Nothing in the proclamation says the work can’t extend into Tuesday. But several top Senate Republicans on Friday didn’t seem interested in prolonging the fight.

Senate president pro tem Lee Schoenbeck said it was “a fair bet” that much talk has already been occurring among the 105 legislators.

“The Constitution provides us a first opportunity, and then has a process that continues on with the Supreme Court. Most of the senator discussions I’ve had invoke a high degree of comfort with this being resolved at any stage along that constitutional trail. I expect we’d adjourn and let the constitutional process work its way along,” Schoenbeck told KELOLAND News.

The Legislature has a second special session, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Tuesday, to start considering the potential impeachment of state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. The car Ravnsborg was driving struck and killed pedestrian Joe Boever at the west edge of Highmore on the night of September 12, 2020.

Schoenbeck said lawmakers could continue with the redistricting issue Tuesday but the Ravnsborg impeachment process will be “an impediment” and senators aren’t reserving motel rooms for Tuesday night.

“Realistically, after months of work and weeks of hearings, if we hit midnight Monday with this not done, the Supreme Court will get the baton,” Schoenbeck said.

House Republican leader Kent Peterson said his chamber is taking a longer view. He is vice chair of the House redistricting committee.

“Talks are ongoing, as they have been throughout this process. The House is committed to seeing this through, no matter how long it takes. We have a job to do, and we will do it,” Peterson told KELOLAND News.

The Senate map reflects an amended proposal that originated from Senator Casey Crabtree. The House map largely reflects a plan from Representative Drew Dennert.

Their respective sets of boundaries differ substantially in various places, especially Sioux Falls and neighboring Minnehaha and Lincoln counties.

It’s possible the chambers kill each other’s legislation.

“If that should happen, the House is committed to appointing a conference committee to get to a compromised final map,” Peterson said.

Republicans have super-majorities in both chambers. They hold 32 of the Senate’s 35 seats and 62 of the 70 House seats. Democrats have the remaining 11.

Republican leaders chose this year to appoint separate House and Senate committees on redistricting. Mary Duvall chaired the Senate’s, while Speaker Spencer Gosch ran the House panel. Both emphasized transparency and fair treatment throughout the process. The panels met together until the final month.

Duvall said the Senate committee tried to accommodate some changes sought by some House Republicans who weren’t on the House committee.

“The revised Senate map already includes a number of changes offered by House members. If there are additional ideas that make sense, we will certainly look at them,” Duvall said.

“I won’t try to predict what will happen. I do appreciate that our Constitution has a provision for how things will work if the Legislature is unable to develop a map,” she continued. “I hope we get our work done on Monday, so we don’t interfere with the AG special session on Tuesday.”

Voters from each district elect a senator and nearly every district elects two representatives. Districts 26 and 28 are each split into two sub-districts where voters elect one senator and one representative, so that American Indian voters have a better chance of electing their candidates to House seats. Neither chamber’s plan provides for splitting district 34’s two House seats into sub-districts so that American Indian voters in North Rapid City would have a better chance too of picking a winning candidate.

“Unless this is fixed,” Senator Reynold Nesiba wrote in a tweet Friday, “I will vote against both of these maps as currently constituted.”

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