South Dakota’s legislative research council is under scrutiny following a report commissioned by lawmakers. The leader of LRC resigned Wednesday. Then lawmakers reviewed an analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Legislative Research Council Executive Director Jim Fry resigned Wednesday ahead of a report citing 12 recommendations for South Dakota’s executive board and the LRC. Republicans on the committee accepted his resignation; Democrats voted against it.
Republican State Senator Ryan Maher from Isabel chairs the executive board.
"What we found out is we have a legislative research council that’s operating in a 1990s, before-term limits-come-into-effect operation mode, but you have a legislature that is term-limited, therefore very short period of time with high turnover rates. And the two haven’t been meshing very well over the past five years," Maher says.
Maher says the report helps lawmakers and LRC staff understand problems between elected officials and the workers who assist them with procedure, research, legislation drafting, and accounting.
Democratic State Representative Bernie Hunhoff says the report puts the LRC on defense. Among other initiatives, the analysis recommends adding three new positions.
"I just don’t think pointing fingers at LRC is going to solve anything. I don’t think we should be electing legislators that need proofreaders. I think legislators can take a bigger responsibility themselves," Hunhoff says. "I’m not opposed to better staffing at LRC and spending more money there; I think they are way under-staffed, as we said."
But, Hunhoff says, other areas of the state budget are also worthy of more funding. He notes education and health care as two examples.
The executive board is reviewing the report and deciding which recommendations to implement.
Lawmakers appointed an interim executive director. His name is Fred Schoenfeld, and he’s been the Legislative Research Council’s chief fiscal analyst for seven years. Schoenfeld says he is serving as temporary leader and plans to retire from the LRC in June.