PIERRE | The South Dakota House decided Wednesday a special election should be held June 5 on a proposed change to victim’s rights in the state constitution.
The timing coincides with primary elections setting political party tickets for county, legislative and state offices in the November general election. Other proposed amendments and initiated laws will be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
The proposed change would tighten some terms in the Marsy’s Law provisions South Dakota voters approved in 2016. The Marsy’s Law organization supports the changes, according to Rep. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls.
Erinn Mahathey, a Marsy’s Law lobbyist, watched from the House gallery.
One proposed change would remove the statement that a victim shall have rights “beginning at the time of victimization” and insert the phrase “upon request.” Another would allow law enforcement to share information with the public for the purpose of solving the crime.
Because it is a joint resolution, Gov. Dennis Daugaard doesn’t get to review HJR 1004 and can’t try to stop it with a veto. He supports putting it on the June ballot to potentially save money for counties.
The House also gave final approval 58-9 for legislation appropriating $200,000 for the special election. HB 1162 also sets deadlines of:
• March 27 for the attorney general to provide the secretary of state an explanation of what the proposed amendment would do.
• April 11 for the secretary of state to deliver to county auditors the proposed amendment and related materials.
• May 1 for county auditors to mail a copy to each official newspaper.
“You’re going to save money, you’re going to solve problems back in your district. You’re going to improve turnout,” Mickelson, the House speaker, said.
House Democratic leader Spencer Hawley of Brookings said he originally agreed with putting the proposed amendment on the November ballot but opposed it in June.
“I cannot let the ends justify the means by doing this,” Hawley said.
County governments want the June date, according to Rep. Liz May, R-Kyle. “This is serious to them. They want us to resolve it,” she said. “My counties don’t have the money.”
Rep. Nancy York, R-Watertown, said the decision to hold the special election “made a lot of difference” for her. York said the Marsy’s Law organization intends to spend money on campaign advertising.
County governments could save many thousands of dollars compared with the state’s potential expense, York said.
Said Mickelson: “The feedback on this is, ‘Do it.’ This is a solution to a very real problem that is costing your local governments millions of dollars.”
House members also supported legislation that doubles the surcharge for victim services to $5. It also shifts the victim compensation commission to the state Department of Public Safety from the Department of Social Services.
The vote for HB 1160 was 64-3. The commission has been part of state government for decades. The two bills go to the governor for review.
Tonchi Weaver hasn’t taken a vacation in 10 years.
Though she retired from her job with the United States Postal Service in January, she says she’s spent much of her time off over the past decade as she did Wednesday afternoon: pacing outside the county administration building, petition in hand, smile stretched across face.
“Are you a Rapid City voter?” she asks most passers-by.
Some simply reply "No” and continue on their way. Others say they’re in a rush, or they’re running late. A few lament that though they’re not Rapid Citians, they’d sign her petition without hesitation if so. And a few actually pause for a moment, listen to Weaver’s explanation of the issue, and put pen to paper.
By 5 p.m. on March 20, Weaver and about 40 volunteers must collect and submit at least 2,095 valid signatures to the city’s finance office if Rapid Citians are to decide the future of Barnett Arena in Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. If Weaver and her volunteers are successful, the choice will be simple: build a new, 12,000- to 13,000-seat, $130 million arena or renovate the existing Barnett Arena for about $25 million.
The election would then likely be held on June 5, the same date as South Dakota’s Republican primary elections for the governorship, lone U.S. House of Representative seat, seven legislative districts, three county commissioner positions and the county sheriff, auditor and register of deeds positions.
Weaver couldn’t give an estimate of the number of signatures they’d collected thus far but sounded unfazed by the task.
“We’re on pace,” she said, adding that the goal is to have someone outside the county administration building from open to close — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. — until enough signatures are gathered.
In the past, they’ve gotten the best “yield,” as Weaver calls it, outside city yard waste drop-off centers. But as winter lingers and those sites remain shuttered, the risen concrete slab outside the county building’s entrance is where Weaver and others spend much of their daytime hours.
Weaver inches toward the entrance stairway’s metal handrail. She knows the routine well.
“It’s really great early in the day here,” she says, turning to pace backward again. “About 3:30 (p.m.), 4 o’clock, it gets real hard to stay in the sun. It goes behind the wall.”
'We never will apologize'
Late last year, she spent her vacation time standing in the same spot gathering signatures to put the city’s water rate hikes to a special election on Feb. 20. Though Rapid Citians rejected the increases, the city has since said it will raise them regardless.
Weaver remains untroubled about that, and unapologetic for the election, which cost the city around $50,000 but saw just 7 percent of registered Rapid City voters turnout.
“Sure, things have cost money, but you know, we fought a revolution so we could vote on things, and here we are a couple centuries later and we have to preserve that right,” she said. “That’s why we never will apologize for bringing an issue to the people.”
As for the issue of Barnett Arena, Weaver says that same ethos is part of her reasoning.
“For that much money, the people should have the last word,” she said. “That’s kind of why we’re out here. Citizenship is a tough duty sometimes.”
Serving as a check on the government plays a role, too.
“It comes down to what’s prudent,” she said. “We know what’s preferable, but we want to do the prudent thing. We want to make sure that it’s a good decision all the way around.”
Much remains unclear, Weaver says, including what would happen to Barnett Arena if a new arena is built and whether the city has a parking plan in place to accommodate the increased arena capacity. Then, of course, there’s the question of what, if it’s brought to the ballot, Rapid Citians will decide.
But Weaver is sure of one thing: She’ll continue to fight for her beliefs no matter the result.
“So much tyranny,” she said, “so little time.”
Rapid City Area Schools will allow students to use a gym or commons area or whatever area their principal designates for a walkout Wednesday to protest congressional inaction on gun violence.
Katy Urban, communications manager for the school district, said this week in a Journal interview that students will be allowed to use the designated areas for 17 minutes. School walkouts of that duration are planned across the country at 10 a.m. Wednesday as part of a student-led movement that arose in response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida high school, where 17 people were killed.
Urban said there will be extra law enforcement present Wednesday at Rapid City schools to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the protests. Students will not be counted as absent for attending the protests unless they leave school grounds or do not return to class.
"We want to support their right to express themselves," Urban said.
PIERRE | The first pay raise for South Dakota lawmakers since 1999 won final approval Wednesday from the state House of Representatives.
Rep. Leslie Heinemann, R-Flandreau, made brief remarks in favor. The tally was 52-15. Lawmakers would be paid an amount equal to one-fifth of the median South Dakota household income each year.
Heinemann said the Senate changed the bill slightly so the U.S. Census Bureau’s current population survey would be used. The latest estimate from the Legislative Research Council puts the amount at about $11,800 next year. The current salary is $6,000.
The change would take effect for the new term starting Jan. 1.
The Senate approved it 28-6 Tuesday. Legislators aren’t allowed to raise their salaries during their current terms. HB 1311 goes next to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for his review. He is expected to allow it to become law.
LRC director Jason Hancock said after the vote Wednesday the total estimated cost for this change would be $655,624, after accounting for the 7.65 percent employer share of Social Security and Medicare taxes.
"Keep in mind these are just estimates, based on an average of recent increases in South Dakota median household income," Hancock said. "The actual figures will not be known until the next round of relevant annual census data is published, likely in early fall."