PIERRE (AP) – Supporters of a voter-imposed government ethics initiative repealed just months after it passed plan to return to the ballot in 2018 with an anti-corruption constitutional amendment, the sponsoring group said Thursday in a rebuke of Republican lawmakers who scrubbed the initiative from law.
The group, Represent South Dakota, said in a statement that supporters view it as a necessary response to the Legislature's "brazen repeal" of the government ethics overhaul during the 2017 legislative session. Lawmakers passed bills intended to supplant provisions of the initiative, but backers of the overhaul have said the Legislature's replacement measures fell short of what the voters passed in 2016.
"This is about protecting the will of the people," Represent South Dakota spokesman Doug Kronaizl said. "It's about standing up to establishment politicians and returning power to everyday South Dakotans."
If passed, the amendment would largely be protected from legislative tampering.
It would tighten campaign finance and lobbying restrictions, create an independent ethics commission and prevent the Legislature from altering or rejecting laws approved by voters without returning to the ballot. The plan would also require that laws changing the ballot question process pass a public vote.
At least 10 states, albeit not South Dakota, have provisions to protect citizens' initiatives from state lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
For example, Alaska and Wyoming lawmakers can't repeal an initiative within two years. It takes a two-thirds majority in Arkansas and Nebraska to amend or repeal, while the California Legislature can't repeal or amend an initiated statute unless the measure specifically allows it.
The 2016 ballot question created an ethics commission and public campaign funding, but it wasn't in effect when it was repealed in February as Republicans were challenging it in court. The constitutional amendment doesn't include the public campaign finance provisions.
Tony Venhuizen, chief of staff to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said in an email that the 2016 initiative was "unconstitutional and legislators had no choice but to replace it with something workable."
Ben Lee, state director of Americans for Prosperity-South Dakota, a group that opposed the 2016 ballot measure and cheered its repeal, said lawmakers worked hard this session to come up with anti-corruption laws that met what the voters said they wanted.
"It appears that the folks at Represent.Us aren't going to like any law that they didn't write themselves, even though what the Legislature put forth this year addressed their largest concerns," said Lee, referring to the Massachusetts-based group that funded the initiative.
Represent South Dakota said it has filed the proposal with the Legislative Research Council, one step in the process to put it before voters. Supporters would have to submit nearly 28,000 valid signatures to the secretary of state by November 2017 for the amendment to appear on the 2018 ballot.
Kronaizl said supporters hope to start collecting signatures in June.