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State defends IM deadline at Eighth Circuit

South Dakota’s deadline for initiated measures is undergoing scrutiny at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The state is appealing a U.S. District Court decision that a state law requiring initiated measure petitions to be delivered to the Secretary of State a full year before the general election violates petitioners’ free speech.

Oral arguments were held on Wednesday, Oct. 19, before a three-judge appellate panel in Saint Paul.

Assistant Attorney General Clifton Katz represented the state. He started his argument by explaining that state law since 2010 has imposed a deadline requiring proposed initiated measures to be filed with the Secretary of State at least one year before the general election when voters will decide them.

He didn’t get too far into his argument before he was interrupted by Judge Steven Grasz.

“What connection does the one-year deadline have to either the verification process or the ballot printing deadlines, given that the District Court made a factual finding that the state was always able to meet the old six-month deadline?” Grasz asked.

Katz replied that the deadline has no connection to verification or printing ballots. Instead, he said, the important state interest in a long deadline is to give the state time to prepare for change.

“The one-year deadline will give our legislature an attempt or, at least, to be able to look at any proposed initiated measures or constitutional amendments that may, for example, affect our state budget,” Katz said.

On the other side of the issue is South Dakota VOICE and Cory Heidelberger, represented by Rapid City attorney Jim Leach. He told the appellate panel that the state’s contention is illogical because until the legislature knows if an initiated measure passes or fails, there’s nothing for lawmakers to do.

Leach said if voters approve an initiated measure in November, the legislature has time to enact laws in response before the measure takes effect.

“Any initiative or constitutional amendment that’s enacted in November goes into effect July 1st of the following year. The legislature meets from January, February, March,” Leach said.

The Eighth Circuit panel will deliberate and issue an opinion at a later date.

Rapid City freelancer Victoria L. Wicks has been producing news for SDPB since August 2007. She Retired from this position in March 2023.