Senate Bill 70, Governor Dennis Daugaard's omnibus bill to reform South Dakota's burgeoning corrections system, received strong approval from the full Senate yesterday. Only two senators voted no on vague concerns about growing government.
Some of my crankier Republican friends have noted another reason to question or amend SB 70, if not vote the whole thing down. Scroll down to the bottom of SB 70, and you'll find Sections 71 through 75, which makes a surprising deviation from corrections to elections. Intended to insulate the governor's current pet project from the voters, Sections 71–75 require that proponents of ballot initiatives that would in any way affect prison populations, like initiatives that would create new penalties for crimes, must obtain fiscal impact statements from Pierre on their proposal before circulating petitions. As I note in my South Dakota Magazine column, this measure may reduce the time advocates have to circulate petitions by a couple weeks, thus raising one more barrier to direct democracy.
In weighing down the initiative process, these sections of SB 70 appear to address a problem that does not exist. I'm hard-pressed to think of any recent voter initiative that has swollen South Dakota's prison population or corrections costs. The Governor and the Legislature appear to be using a popular bill to take a quiet whack at the legislative power that our state constitution reserves to the people.
Most of Senate Bill 70 looks reasonable. But I encourage the House to amend Sections 71 through 75 to protect the people's voice from an unnecessary weakening of the ballot initiative.