Republican and Democratic lawmakers agreed Monday several of their members should deliver a bipartisan message to the full Legislature in January about mutual goals for the 2018 session.
Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, rolled out the idea during a meeting of the Legislature’s Executive Board that he chairs this year. After some discussion, he said there would be four people and the Democratic minority would be represented.
The House speaker initially said as many as six lawmakers, including at least two Democrats, could have six minutes apiece and run long by two minutes apiece and still take less time than Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s State of the State speech.
Mickelson said they could be chosen by caucus leaders and presiding officers from each chamber and could follow a pre-approved agenda of talking points. The show of unity would be the first in at least 30 years.
Mickelson said he wants the Legislature to more strongly assert itself relative to the two other branches of state government and tribal governments.
Seventy representatives and 35 senators will crowd into the House chamber for the governor’s speech on the opening afternoon Jan. 9.
They come back for two more joint assemblies for remarks from Chief Justice David Gilbertson Jan. 10 and from a tribal leader Jan. 11.
Mickelson said the legislators’ address would be Jan. 16.
“It does show vision,” said Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark. He is Senate president pro tem and vice chairman of the Executive Board this year. He will become chairman in 2018. “I think that will make us stronger.”
“It’s certainly got merits,” agreed Sen. Jim Bolin, R-Canton. “It would elevate our branch.”
Board members made other moves Monday that could prove significant.
They agreed 11-2 to add two positions to the Legislative Research Council’s fiscal staff. It has four people now. They would work as program evaluators after the 2018 session.
The LRC had already started advertising for one slot. The second spot would be filled after session.
LRC executive director Jason Hancock said he sees three teams of two fiscal employees. One would focus on social and human services. Another would look at K-12 education and universities. The third would take the rest of state government.
Rep. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, said more people are needed.
“This is just a start,” Mickelson replied. “Let’s strengthen our branch of government.”
“How do you eat an elephant? Little by little,” Rep. Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, said. Then Tieszen and Gosch voted nay.
The board voted 12-1 to require lobbyists to get a signature from a legislator before asking the LRC to begin writing legislation.
Some lobbyists have approached LRC staff in past sessions without getting clearance from a legislator.
“Let’s quit that,” House Democratic leader Spencer Hawley of Brookings said.
Mickelson said the requirement wasn’t intended to be unfriendly to lobbyists. “We have the smallest staff in the nation,” he said.
LRC has 25 positions.
Greenfield said he’s seen instances when lobbyists independently asked LRC for help and knows from those experiences the behavior can lead to problems.
“It will inject a little more sanity into our process,” Greenfield said.
Tieszen said another benefit is a legislator would be responsible for a lobbyist’s behavior. “Then we have a legislator to hold in the loop as well,” Tieszen said.
Bill Van Camp, a lawyer from Pierre who is a lobbyist, recalled a story that another lawyer and lobbyist, Tim Dougherty from Sioux Falls, told about a conversation with his father, former Lt. Gov. Bill Dougherty, who lobbied for four decades.
The elder Dougherty reportedly said one reason state laws from long ago were so cobbled together is that amendments often were written on napkins given to legislators who were committee chairmen.
“And a lot of times the chair had the napkin,” Van Camp said.
The board also decided the House speaker pro tem, the No. 2 presiding officer who traditionally becomes speaker the next term, should be a nonvoting member of the Executive Board.
That position currently is vacant after the resignation of Rep. Don Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, earlier this year. House Republicans will select his replacement as speaker pro tem next month.