Over the past couple of years, there has been a concerted effort in the South Dakota Legislature to undermine initiative & referendum.
That has played out with the fight over repeal of IM 22 in the 2017 session, the Initiative & Referendum Task Force in the summer of 2017, and in the 2018 session, where over two dozen bills were brought to change the process.
Amendment Z began as a resolution sponsored by Speaker of the House G. Mark Mickelson (R-Sioux Falls). Rep. Mickelson also sponsored a resolution to entirely end citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, but other legislators would not publicly support it, and he tabled it rather than seeing it defeated.
Amendment Z says that amendments to the constitution can only cover a single subject. Legislators already have a single subject rule for bills and resolutions, but there is also no limit on the number of bills and resolutions they can sponsor. And, by law, every single one gets a hearing.
So, clearly, Amendment Z is aimed squarely at the citizen-initiated constitutional amendment process.
What Does the Citizen Process Look Like?
The citizen initiative process is much more difficult and complex than that of the legislature. In order to bring a constitutional amendment, citizens must form a ballot question committee and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. They must submit their language to the Legislative Research Council, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General.
Following that process, which can take two months or more, citizens must gather forty to fifty thousand petition signatures. Then, if the amendment is certified for the ballot, they will mount a campaign to educate South Dakotans and persuade them to vote for it.
When citizens bring constitutional amendments through this process, they are often addressing an issue that has multiple facets. Amendment E–the anti-corporate farming amendment from 1996–dealt with multiple aspects of consolidation in the ag industry. On this year’s ballot is Amendment W, which addresses the issue of perceived corruption in our state government by tackling multiple areas: lobbying, campaign finance, and an ethics commission.
Why Vote No on Amendment Z?
If Amendment Z were to pass, every single part of these issues would have to be dealt with separately. Each piece would need to go through the lengthy and complex process described above. Furthermore, an opponent to any amendment could feasibly wait until the sponsors had done all the work, and then issue a court challenge claiming it is multiple subjects.
So, instead of the voters getting to decide if an amendment is something they agree with, an opponent could drag it into court, where a judge could decide to throw it all away.
Citizen-initiated constitutional amendments often need to comprise more than one subject to be effective at what they seek to do. It should be up to voters, not judges or opposition lawyers, to decide if that package is a good one. If voters determine the package deal is not what they’re looking for, they have the ultimate authority to say no at the ballot box.
Amendment Z is a direct attack on the citizen-initiated amendment process, and it is designed to hamstring citizens’ ability to bring forward effective changes under the guise of making the process more “simple.” In fact, it makes the process monumentally more difficult and complex.
Dakota Rural Action urges South Dakota voters to protect their process, and reject Amendment Z.
Read about Amendment Z and other 2018 Ballot Questions in the Secretary of State’s Ballot Question Information Pamphlet HERE.