Amendment backers hope to tap anger over ethics law repeal

In this Jan. 10 file photo, Pierre resident Roxanne Weber rallies in support of a voter-approved government ethics overhaul in front of the state Capitol in Pierre. Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the Legislature to tamper with voter initiatives hope to harness anger over lawmakers' repeal of a voter-approved ethics measure to advance their cause. Weber, a co-sponsor of the amendment, said Wednesday, May 3, that it would make the Legislature more accountable to voters. 

(AP Photo/James Nord, File)

SIOUX FALLS | Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the Legislature to tamper with voter initiatives hope to harness anger over lawmakers' repeal this year of a voter-approved ethics measure to advance their cause, an amendment campaign leader said Wednesday.

The proposal would make the Legislature more accountable to South Dakota voters, said Roxanne Weber, a co-sponsor of the new amendment who fought Republicans' repeal of the ethics initiative in the just-completed session. If passed, the plan would require a two-thirds vote in each legislative chamber to repeal or amend ballot initiatives for seven years after they become law, among other provisions.

"This amendment provides a lot stronger protections to the initiated measure process so that voters still have that voice in our government," Weber said. "Protecting our rights is by far one of the most important values that I think South Dakotans hold."

At least 10 states, but not South Dakota, have provisions to protect citizens' initiatives from state lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For example, Alaska and Wyoming lawmakers can't repeal an initiative within two years, while it takes a two-thirds majority in Arkansas and Nebraska to amend or repeal.

South Dakota amendment supporters would have to submit nearly 28,000 valid signatures to the secretary of state by November 2017 for the amendment to appear on the 2018 ballot. Weber, a software engineer in Pierre, said she hopes volunteers can start collecting signatures in June.

When lawmakers passed a bill scrubbing the ethics measure from law during the 2017 session, it contained an emergency provision that made the repeal take effect immediately and blocked voters from referring it to the ballot. Under the proposed amendment, a law passed with an emergency clause could be taken to a public vote.

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It would also cap the number of signatures required to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot at no more than 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

Republican Sen. Jim Bolin last session pushed an amendment for the 2018 ballot that would have made it more difficult to change the state constitution. Bolin said he likely wouldn't support the proposed voter-initiative amendment. State legislators who run for political office should be given deference to deal with such laws, he said.

"I don't think that's a good way to go for the state of South Dakota," he said.

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