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Amendment C challenged on single-subject rule


Two South Dakota residents are suing the state over a potential proposed constitutional amendment that increases the voting threshold for certain ballot questions.

Plaintiffs argue it violates the state’s single subject rule for constitutional amendments.

The constitution currently requires that any new tax or tax increase must be approved by majority of votes cast, or two-thirds of the legislature.

Amendment C asks voters to increase the threshold for tax increases from a simple majority of votes to 60 percent. It also wants to impose that same threshold for any measure that obligates the state to spend $10 million in five fiscal years.

David Owen is one of two people bringing the lawsuit. He is president of the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce, which is not involved in the suit. Owen says the proposed amendment deals with two different parts of the constitution, which he says means it’s two subjects.

“One of the things that we’ve been evolving is this idea of what is a single subject. So, we see this as a helpful next step for the courts to further define—for people that write initiatives, for the legislature, for the legislative research counsel—what is meant by single subject.”

Adria Botella

Last year, State Supreme Court ruled that a voter approved constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis across the board violated the single subject rule.

Owen says he wants the courts to follow up on their ruling.

The Republican controlled legislature placed the amendment on the 2022 primary ballot. That’s ahead of a Medicaid expansion vote in the fall, which several Republicans oppose.

Republican Senator Lee Schoenbeck sponsored what became Amendment C in the Senate last year. He says the single subject rule is designed to keep amendments to one topic, which he says ‘C’ does.

“If you can parcel this simple constitutional amendment into two and actually keep the voters from voting on it, I’m not sure you can have another constitutional amendment because you can always find two people that say, ‘well, if you broke it up this way, I would want to vote for part and not the other part,’” Schoenbeck says. “That’s their lawsuit.”

This is the second legal challenge against Amendment C. The first sought to refer the resolution that ultimately became Amendment C, but the Supreme Court ruled resolutions cannot be referred.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.