PIERRE | Allegations that two Democratic legislators are ineligible to serve were briefly reopened in a Monday closed-door meeting with Republican House leadership, but were quickly shot down by a near unanimous vote by the House on Tuesday.
Several Republican legislators alleged prior to the start of the 2019 legislative session that District 27’s Rep. Peri Pourier and Sen. Red Dawn Foster, both Democrats of Pine Ridge, did not meet the state’s residency requirements to serve in the Legislature.
South Dakota’s state constitution stipulates that legislators be residents of the state for at least two years prior to their election. GOP legislators alleged that Pourier and Foster were actually residents of Nebraska and Colorado, respectively within two years of their elections.
In the House on Tuesday, Rep. Sam Marty of Prairie City and Rep. Steve Livermont of Martin, both Republicans, motioned that a special committee be formed to further investigate Pourier’s residency.
Republican Majority Whip Rep. Jon Hansen of Dell Rapids urged the House to vote against the motion, warning that it could set a “dangerous precedent” of establishing select committees with subpoena power that can “bust open your life based on one little piece of evidence.”
“We do not want to go down that road,” he said.
The House overwhelmingly voted down the motion to further investigate the issue, with 62 voting no and five voting in favor.
Republican House and Senate leadership at a Friday news conference said that they investigated the issue and found both Pourier and Foster to be eligible, and said there were no intentions to attempt to remove them from their seats.
"We worked very hard to get the information and right now, with current information we have, we believe there's no reason she would be unseated,” House Majority Leader Rep. Lee Qualm of Platte said Friday. “There's plenty of evidence saying that she's definitely eligible."
Qualm was present at Monday’s closed-door meeting with dozens of District 27 residents, as well as House Speaker Rep. Steven Haugaard of Sioux Falls, Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Arch Beal of Sioux Falls and Speaker Pro-Tempore Rep. Spencer Gosch of Glenham. House leadership refused to begin Monday's meeting until all members of the press left the room.
Democratic leadership on Friday said they were confident from the start that both Pourier and Foster are eligible for their seats.
"We knew that that was going to be the end result," Senate Minority Leader Sen. Troy Heinert of Mission said Friday.
Livermont said following Tuesday’s vote that he does not intend to further pursue an investigation on Pourier, but that House leadership is mulling over introducing legislation that would tighten residency requirements “so this doesn’t happen again.”