Last updated on 2012.03.18
Yesterday Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed Senate Bill 157, legislation sponsored by Senator Russell Olson (R-8/Wentworth) to help Daktronics sell more electronic billboards and muck up the view in Rapid City. I note with glee the Governor's willingness to tell both big business and the Senate Majority Leader to sit on a tack.
But I also note what appears to be a situational commitment to the separation of powers in this veto. The primary reason Governor Daugaard cites for his veto is his desire not to interfere legislatively with pending litigation. Lamar Advertising and Rapid City are tangling in federal court over Rapid's local outdoor advertising regulations. SB 157 would pretty much decide the lawsuit in Lamar's favor and override Rapid City's local ordinance. Governor Daugaard deems such legislative interference in a matter before the judiciary "inappropriate" and says, "Before we seek to change this law, we should understand the meaning of the current law."
Fair enough. But the Governor did not apply similar reasoning to HB 1254, which amended South Dakota's coercive-counseling abortion restrictions. Those restrictions are mostly injoined by federal court order as Planned Parenthood argues its lawsuit against that unconstitutional statute. Yet Governor Daugaard signed changes to that challenged law that could affect the lawsuit.
Now I understand SB 157 and HB 1254 are different creatures. Governor Daugaard contends his veto of SB 157 is a "unique" instance of avoiding state legislative interference in an "isolated local matter." The Rapid City lawsuit does not involve state government; the lawsuit over our abortion law does.
So here's my fundamental constitutional question for the day: can a litigant state change legislation that is getting it sued before the judge rules on that suit?
Governor Daugaard cites one other reason for his veto of SB 157 that may bear on our view of South Dakota's abortion laws. The Governor expresses concern about passing SB 157 so soon after Rapid City voters passed their local billboard ordinance. I'm glad the Governor respects the will of the voters... but why do we not hear such concern on abortion laws? A majority of South Dakota voters have rejected more restrictive abortion laws in two statewide ballot measures, yet the Governor signed last year's offensive abortion restrictions into law.
That analogy, too, is not perfect: the Governor may be able to differentiate the issues by citing numbers: the Rapid City law got 66% approval, while the two abortion measures were rejected by only 55%. The Rapid City law was approved just last summer; South Dakota voters rejected previous abortion bans in 2006 and 2008, three long years ago.
Such numerical hair-splitting doesn't sit well with me. But I invite your analysis of the consistency of Governor Daugaard's vetoes.
Update 2012.03.18 11:17 CDT: Mr. Price sends me an article reminding us why it's so hard for local governments to restrict billboards: the billboard companies spend big money to fight democracy... and politicians want those big signs for their campaigns.