Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) saw seven bills that he prime-sponsored killed this week, five in committee yesterday. Among them was House Bill 1210, which would have clarified that quora of legislative committees cannot meet privately, including via group texts and e-mails, to discuss, debate, or decide bills.

Rep. Hickey testified yesterday before House State Affairs that he has seen the message spread in private meetings of committee members that legislative leaders want certain bills killed. He testified (meaning it's true!) that some pre-hearing meetings even determine who will move and second the tabling or 41st-day-deferral of doomed bills. Rep. Hickey contends that such decisions violate Article 3 Section 15 of the South Dakota Constitution, which says "The sessions of each house and of the committee of the whole shall be open, unless when the business is such as ought to be kept secret."

Hmm... wait a minute: does that clause actually declare committee meetings open, or just sessions of the full House and Senate?

No one debated the state constitution with Rep. Hickey. No one testified in opposition. House State Affairs member Rep. Kris Langer (R-25/Dell Rapids) said the bill was poorly written, failing to specify who would report violations and who would decide what penalty. Rep. Langer also said HB 1210 as written would prohibit her from e-mailing superintendents to get information about a tech school bill and forwarding that e-mail to other committee members.

I would debate that point with Rep. Langer: forwarding materials from other sources to committee members could be construed as something less than "discussing, debating, or deciding" an issue on the committee agenda. It certainly is not the sort of organized bill-killing Rep. Hickey targeted with HB 1210.

But House State Affairs didn't need much more discussion or debate to make its decision. Rep. Roger Solum (R-5/Watertown) moved to table HB1210. Unlike the more usual bill-killing motion to defer to the 41st day, the motion to table, per Joint Rule 5.5, is no debatable, meaning we just call the votes—10–2, party-line vote, Dems supporting Rep. Hickey, his own GOP spurning him, in favor of tabling—and put HB 1210 away.

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Democrats, on your to-do list for winning a majority in Pierre, add "Lure Steve Hickey to the dark side.

The Right Reverend Republican Representative from District 9 is aiming to get treated like the aliens in District 9, fenced off by himself, for bucking his party leaders with simple legislation like House Bill 1210:

No legislative committee, or quorum thereof, may meet privately, including group texts and emails, to discuss, debate, or decide an item or bill on the committee's upcoming agenda.

South Dakota law applies a rule like Rep. Hickey's HB 1210 to pretty much every governing board in the state: deliberations and decisions affecting the public need to happen in public. Citizens have a right to know the reasoning that leads to the passage or rejection of a statute, ordinance, or school board textbook purchase.

Rep. Hickey charges that his Legislative colleagues flaunt that principle by deciding bills in private caucus before public committee hearings. He contends that his House Bill 1086, the Long Economic Winter study proposal, fell victim to such predetermined machinations last week. Last Wednesday, House State Affairs gave Rep. Hickey twelve minutes to speak his piece, in which he challenged my characterization of his bill as prepperism for legislators by noting he was motivated to bring this bill by an official at Avera McKennan who said the hospital has a contingency plan for dealing with exactly the sort of massive federal budget cuts HB 1086 proposed to study. The committee heard Mark Chase of the South Dakota Family Policy Council say the economic recovery is a "central-bank-driven bubble" leading us to collapse this year, then heard Jim Terwilliger of Bureau of Finance and Management explain that this bill circumvents the normal process for establishing summer studies and rebut Chase's assertion of apocalypse by noting that South Dakota has the least volatile state revenues in the country. Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) brilliantly noted (at 48:00 into the hearing) that Chase's claim that disaster is coming this year moots the point of doing a study that wouldn't wrap up in time to address that disaster. Chase responded "Not necessarily..." which is usually the signal that someone just got caught with his rhetorical pants down. Chase said he's not an economist and just looks at a lot of charts.

After more than 30 minutes of discussion, House State Affairs killed the bill 12–1.

Whether HB 1086 is the best example of the problem Rep. Hickey wants to tackle, HB 1210 seems perfectly reasonable, requiring Legislative committee members to adhere to the same rules as other public bodies. Rep. Hickey's supermajority Republican colleagues will kill it, of course, and chide Rep. Hickey for suggesting that they conduct business in secret. The Republican leadership may even give Rep. Hickey a little Stace Nelson treatment, maybe making him wear a donkey tail during caucus meetings.

Democrats, Steve Hickey may be feeling a little lonely this week. Buy him a drink, lend him a shoulder... and maybe see what common ground you can find with the good reverend to challenge the Republican monolith.

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The South Dakota Legislature will debate the death penalty again this session. Democratic Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) and Republican Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) lead a bipartisan team of sponsors on Senate Bill 121, which would remove death from the penalties permitted for Class A felonies and replace it with life imprisonment without parole.

Last year the Legislature killed Rep. Hickey's death-penalty repeal in House State Affairs by one vote. This year, the death penalty debate goes first to Senate State Affairs, where SB 121 sponsors Senator Hunhoff and Senator Billie Sutton (D-21/Burke) are the only Democrats among seven Republicans. But those Republicans will see the names of House colleagues among the sponsors, including former judge Rep. Tim Johns (R-20/Spearfish), conservative Rep. Scott Munsterman (R-7/Brookings), and formidable lawyer and Catholic Rep. Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown).

Conservatives looking for a reason to repeal the death penalty get a reminder from one of South Dakota's greatest liberals, former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk, that the death penalty does not make fiscal sense:

In Texas, which boasts of the largest death row in the country, a death penalty case in 1996 cost taxpayers an average of $2.3 million, which is about three times the cost of imprisoning the accused in a single cell for 40 years. Other states report similar savings when the death penalty is not the issue in a criminal trial.

If the excessive cost of a death penalty trial is compared to a nondeath case, each state could increase police presence, police training and other matters designed to curb criminal activity, which is where the money should be spent [Jim Abourezk, "Is Death Penalty Too Costly for Taxpayers?" that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.02.02].

Expect serious, non-partisan fiscal and moral arguments in Senate State Affairs... and, we hope, on the floor of both chambers as this important bill advances.

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House State Affairs gave short shrift to Rep. Steve Hickey's (R-9/Sioux Falls) House Bill 1086 Wednesday. Rep. Hickey wants the Legislature to spend the summer studying what it would do in case of a national economic collapse that would leave South Dakota without the federal aid on which it depends for nearly 40% of its budget. The committee listened for a few minutes, then killed the bill, 12–1. (Rep. Hickey's only ally: Rep. Scott Munsterman, R-7/Brookings, who may also believe a Long Economic Winter, if not The End, is nigh.)

Rep. Mike Verchio (R-30/Hill City) voted to kill HB 1086. In a Facebook conversation, Rep. Verchio tells the good Hickey that the Legislature has "much bigger issues to cover"...

...issues like those covered by the five bills Rep. Verchio is prime-sponsoring:

  1. HB 1112 to nudge up county power to restrict fireworks (how very Republican).
  2. HJR 1002 asking President Obama to pardon Peter L. Larson, dinosaur hunter.
  3. SB 79 to exempt all trailers from the county wheel tax... at a time when counties desperately need revenue to fix their roads.
  4. SB 107 to fiddle with the statutory language on drivers' learners permits. increase the period an instructor permit is valid and to revise the requirements to upgrade to an operator's licence or a restricted minor's permit.
  5. SB 152 in pork for his home district to fight an arguably unwinnable battle against pine beetles, who are simply nature's response to our mixed-up forest priorities.

Much bigger issues? Maybe. I'm curious, though: how does one determine what constitutes a greater priority for the Legislature? Are there principles one can apply... or do we just trot out that line about "much bigger issues" to dismiss conversations we find too complicated or unpleasant to have?

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Rep. Steve Hickey brings us the Statesman-Prepper bill of 2015. House Bill 1086 would create the Economic Contingencies Work Group to study how the state would respond to what Rep. Hickey has called the "Long Economic Winter." Gently revising a summer-study proposal he pitched last year, Rep. Hickey asks the state to consider how it would confront an extended national economic crisis severe enough to cripple the federal government, disrupt the food and energy distribution networks, and drive us to local self-sufficiency and bartering.

Appropriately, the work group would have thirteen members.

The bill doesn't mention plague or war (O, Jericho, sweet Jericho!), but you know the millennialists who were disappointed at the Y2K non-event are thinking what fun it will be to write the discussion of any of the Four Horsemen onto the Legislature's agenda. I'll admit, the discussion could be a profound exercise in political and economic science. How well could South Dakota survive on its own? Would we be willing to nationalize (wait: what is the word for when a state government takes over private property and economic activity? state-alize?) farm land and farm equipment to ensure that enough beef, grain, and vegetables are grown to feed every citizen? Would we order our Guard troops to raid North Dakota and Wyoming for oil and coal, or would we take a safer defensive posture, convert all of our vehicles to run on electricity and ethanol, commandeer the dams on the Missouri River, and draft engineers and linemen to reconfigure the grid to provide electricity to sustain our state?

Thirteen Legislators of the Apocalypse could have a riotous summer thinking up disaster scenarios and plans for maintaining law, order, and tolerably good wine in the worst of times. Heck, I support governmental action to prepare for asteroid collisions (whew! survived another one—wait, two, Skipper and Little Buddy, Monday night!), and the last five thousand years have brought us more collapses of economies and empires than asteroid collisions. So go ahead, South Dakota Legislature, let's spend the summer talking about Rep. Hickey's Long Economic Winter... and amend the bill to include fewer legislators and more writers, futurists, and other creative types who can really probe the possibilities!

Related Reading: Maybe reading some alternative history would be useful bedtime reading for students of the Long Economic Winter. 1983: Doomsday is an alternate-history wiki-narrative created by multiple users imagining world history spun off from a nuclear war in 1983. In that timeline, the Lakota take West River; East River unites with the eastern part of North Dakota to form one state and moves the capital to Aberdeen.

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Back in 2013, the Legislature concluded that its Legislative Research Council wasn't keeping pace with evolving technology and legislators' demands. They got LRC director Jim Fry to resign, and in the summer of 2014 they hired Jason Hancock to run the show.

Whatever reforms Hancock implemented must have included spending more time reviewing bill drafts. As of close of business yesterday, January 6, the LRC had published just nine bills (bit-chompingly summarized here). Those bills only popped into view Monday afternoon. As Mr. Powers notes, that's notably later than usual. Last year, we had bills to read by December 23. Two years ago, December 19. Three years ago, December 29. Four years ago, December 23.

Maybe the delay indicates that legislators are swamping their LRC with bills. Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) tells this blog that he's working on twelve bills. Twelve bills: if all 105 legislators were that ambitious, we'd have 1,260 bills to plow through! That's more than twice what we usually have; Rep. Rev. Hickey is giving District 9 their money's worth and then some!

Two of Hickey's bills are super-duper secret, but he's willing to share the rest:

  1. death penalty repeal
  2. a mental illness bill related to the Death penalty
  3. two bills I'm calling victim wish bills so people who are murdered who oppose the death penalty have their wishes considered
  4. a bill that allows child sex abuse victims who were litigating their cases in 2010 to not have their cases dismissed because the legislature changed the statute of limitations
  5. two bankruptcy exemption bills
  6. an ATV bill that creates a fund for trails
  7. a bill that brings accountability to the drug control fund and gives 25% back to the counties for indigent defense.
  8. "Long Economic Winter" task force

The death penalty repeal bills are consistent with Rep. Rev. Hickey's conversion on capital punishment in 2013. His bill to repeal the penalty in the 2014 session was defeated in its first committee hearing on a narrow 7–6 vote.

The ATV trail bill could be fun. Expect me and Patrick Lalley to lobby for an amendment to include bicycle access to any new trails.

The "Long Economic Winter" task force is a fiscal prepper idea Rep. Rev. Hickey has been pushing to no avail for a few years. Rep. Rev. Hickey contends that we need to plan for how South Dakota could survive a serious economic depression, a massive cutback in the federal spending that keeps our state afloat (38.9% of the Governor's proposed FY 2016 budget), or worse. Here's how Rep. Rev. Hickey described the proposal to his colleagues last year:

Study the ramifications of a long economic winter on main street South Dakota and state government, and make recommendations for contingency plans. I'd like a LEW (long-economic winter) workgroup to address the following 7 questions.

  1. What would say, a 20% reduction in Federal funds mean to South Dakota?
  2. What would the collapse of the dollar mean to main street South Dakota: What would it mean to our state's large financial sector, which at present is a significant source of revenue and jobs?
  3. What are the possibilities for weaning South Dakota off Federal and other uncertain (or arguably unhealthy) revenue sources?
  4. What if any measures in South Dakota could be adopted so our present statutes don't exacerbate difficulties in buying and selling, or bartering?
  5. What current state statutes might hamstring people simply trying to take care of themselves and their families and or frustrate or prolong our recovery?
  6. What would a significant disruption in the food, fuel or power supplies mean to our population?
  7. Considering the unstable and unsustainable economic environment beyond our borders, just how much should we keep in our reserve funds? [Rep. Steve Hickey, 2014 Summer Studies Ballot, spring 2014]

If the economy gets so bad that we have to barter, details of state law may be the least of our concerns. But maybe California Governor Jerry Brown's plan for power micro-grids would be a good step in toward that disaster planning.

I'm eager to see Rep. Rev. Hickey's full proposals in the Legislative hopper. And really, if we are to be an informed and well-governed democracy, we need to see those bills as soon as possible. Get cracking, LRC!

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The payday lending industry is so worried about the Hickey-Hildebrand initiative to cap interest rates, they are threatening to take away our beer and ribs. In David Montgomery's last Sunday report, Dollar Loan Center founder and alpha shark Chuck Brennan warns of the profound cultural impact of shutting down his usury industry:

That includes "Chuck's Kegger," a new summer rock-and-roll festival starting next year in Sioux Falls. When he announced Chuck's Kegger this week, Brennan said he'd made a long-term commitment to the festival — but would change in a heartbeat if voters approve a rate cap in 2016.

"The event would end there," Brennan said. "If it isn't for the money coming in from Dollar Loan Center, there aren't these big concerts and donations. We donate every penny we get from the state of South Dakota" [David Montgomery, "Payday Loans Could Cease in South Dakota," that Sioux Falls online content experience, 2014.12.14].

(What? The state of South Dakota is giving payday lenders money? Let's knock that off right away!)

Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey knows the Bible is much clearer on the sinfulness of usury than the ills of missing out on one more kegger. Rep. Rev. Hickey responds to Brennan's empty threat appropriately:

"We will survive one less rib/keg-fest," Hickey said. "I care a lot more that that money is coming from people who can't afford chicken on their table at night. If he wants to say he's going to pull his big party away from here, I'm sorry" [Montgomery, 2014.12.14].

Heck, if South Dakota passes their initiative, I'll bet Pastor Hickey's Church at the Gate would be more than happy to have everyone over for potato soup supper and fellowship.

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While my comment section lights up with debate about whether Jeff Barth agrees with us on enough policies to chair the South Dakota Democratic Party, Republican Rep. Steve Hickey announces he's teaming with Democratic consultant and über-barista Steve Hildebrand to put a payday loan interest cap on the ballot:

Though they disagree on issues like same-sex marriage, they do agree on one thing: payday loans exploit South Dakota’s poor and elderly.

“We are planning, and have been planning, to bring this thing to the ballot in 2016,” Hickey said. “The polls are on our side, the people in South Dakota understand that 36 percent is enough interest rate for a person to make some money” [Todd Epp, "Hickey, Hildebrand Form Group to Put Payday Loan Interest Cap on Ballot," Northern Plains News, 2014.11.26].

Rep. Hickey got burned by the payday lenders last session, when the usury industry betrayed him on viable compromise legislation that the industry recommended to check abuse of consumers. Rep. Hickey is now following up on the initiative vow he made last winter to subject the payday lenders to the rate-capping wrath of the voters, and he's getting Steve Hildebrand to help bring the fight.

Hickey and Hildebrand are one of the oddest South Dakota couples we could cobble together. They disagree vehemently over social issues. But if they birth this rate-cap initiative, they could model for us all how South Dakotans can work around their radically different views to identify common goals and produce practical solutions.

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