PIERRE — A bill that would prohibit the spouses of South Dakota state lawmakers from serving as lobbyists was defeated Monday in the state House.
The final House vote for Senate Bill 197 failed 24-44.
Backers described the bill as a much-needed ethics measure, while opponents said it targeted Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, of Rapid City, and went too far.
Just a month ago, Frye-Mueller was suspended and censured over harassing a legislative aide in a discussion on vaccines and breastfeeding. The exchange occurred in the presence of Frye-Mueller's husband, Mike Mueller, who is a private lobbyist with the conservative group South Dakota Citizens for Liberty.
He also testified this session in support of a resolution expressing sympathy for those facing charges for the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot. That resolution failed to win passage.
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Democratic Rep. Linda Duba, who championed the lobbyist measure in the House, said the bill was meant to address “a situation in state government that we need to clean up.”
“This is not targeted at one individual as you might think," Duba said. "This can happen ongoing if we do not take this action today.”
The measure previously passed the Senate with the backing of Republican Sen. Mike Rohl. He argued legislators are currently not allowed to lobby until several years after leaving office and described the restriction as a common-sense guardrail.
“It would be extremely easy to be able to hire a spouse to lobby on behalf of something for you, and that money be easily transferred to a legislator,” Rohl said in an earlier hearing.
Critics, however, said it would have blocked bills that would be good for all citizens, and caused legal action because the bill didn’t distinguish between not-for-profit, volunteer lobbyists with paid, registered lobbyists, as the court has.
“This bill is like a shotgun blast where a rifle shot might be appropriate,” Republican Rep. Jon Hansen said.
Similar bills have been proposed in the past and lawmakers are considering taking it up again.