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Federal Judge Strikes Petition Circulator Registry Bill

Melissa Hamersma Sievers

A federal judge is ruling that a new state law is invalid and violates the first amendment of the United States Constitution.

South Dakota lawmakers passed a bill in 2019 that requires petition circulators to register and Secretary of State create a directory of circulators.

In his ruling on Thursday, District Judge Charles Kornmann says HB 1094’s—the law in question—has a  primary purpose of severely regulating the process through which those who wish circulate a petition may do so.

Kornmann said the content of the law—which would have gone into effect in July of 2020—is discriminatory toward free speech. He goes on to say “If you favor the status quo and oppose change, you are not regulated. If you favor change of one sort or another, you are extensively regulated.

Dakota Free Press blogger Cory Heidelberger was a plaintiff on the challenge to the law. He says state legislators keep bringing regulations that target free speech.

“The solution here is not more government, the solution here is more speech, it’s more civic engagement, it’s more voters watching what’s going on, it’s more people talking about the ballot measures and voting on them,” Heidelberger says. “The solution here is to trust the people. Let the people rule, not try to rule them out from Pierre with a bunch of over regulation.”

It’s the second such legal win for Cory Heidelberger within the last year, who challenged that law and a voter approved ballot question that banned out-of-state contribution to ballot question campaigns.

Republican Representative Jon Hanson was the prime sponsor of the bill that set up a petition circulator registry. He was not available for comment. In the past, Hansen has said the law was meant to prevent out of state actors from circulating petitions.

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