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Lawmakers, Petitioners Examine SD Ballot Measure Process

Kealey Bultena

Later this month, a summer task force will take a closer look at the ability of South Dakotans to create and pass legislation through ballot measures.

Meanwhile… two people are circulating petitions for a constitutional amendment meant to protect that process.

After a laundry list of ballot measure questions from the 2016 election, lawmakers sought to rope in the ballot measure process.

Voters had to consider 10 questions on a variety of topics, from government ethics reform to interest rate caps. That drew the ire of some lawmakers who view the state’s low signature requirement and cheap media market as a testing ground for national political groups to experiment with policy.

Representative David Lust chairs the Initiative and Referendum Task Force. He says there’s voter fatigue on the number of measures that reach the ballot.

“Is that a good way to be making law? If that becomes a de facto way to pass laws… is that appropriate, is that the best way to use it?" Lust says. "That’s what I hope this committee will look at and say ‘you know, maybe there’s some tweaks and modifications that we can make to keep it accessible, but reign in some of the excessive use that we’ve seen in the past.'"

Lust says the committee could recommend legislation to change the process, but also may not propose any bills.

Rather than change the initiative and referendum process, some South Dakotans are hoping to protect it even further.

Roxanne Weber is floating a constitutional amendment that prevents lawmakers from repealing a voter-approved ballot measure for 7 years. Weber points to lawmakers repealing an ethics reform package last session.

“This is the one way that as a majority of voters we can overrule the legislature if we really feel that it is important," Weber says. "So, it’s something that’s really needed and should have protection.”

The ballot question summer committee will meet on June 20 and take public testimony on the 21st at the capitol in Pierre.