We wake to a glorious summer sun blighted by one ugly legislative black spot: House Bill 1234 becomes law today.
Wait a minute: didn't we put Governor Daugaard's really bad education reform law on hold with 30,000 signatures on a statewide referendum petition?
Not yet. As of Friday, Secretary of State Jason Gant and his employees were still checking those petitions. With no certified referendum, nothing stands between HB 1234 and its statutorily deemed July 1 enactment.
Last year, on June 27, South Dakota Democrats submitted about 22,800 signatures to refer Governor Daugaard's corporate welfare program to a public vote. Secretary Gant's office validated those petitions three weeks later, on July 18, 2011.
In 2009, voters submitted about 25,000 signatures to refer South Dakota's smoking ban to a public vote on June 22. Then-Secretary of State Chris Nelson and his team validated those petitions on June 25. He took just a moment to explain the urgency of getting the job done:
...Since the timeline is so tight, that took place on Monday, the same day the signatures arrived in the office.
"This deals with a law that goes into effect on July 1 unless we find enough signatures on the petition. So we have to know by midnight, June 30 whether or not there are enough signatures on this to determine whether the law goes into place," Nelson said [Jon Wilson, "Validating Smoking Ban Petition Signatures," KELOLand.com, 2009.06.23].
I know Secretary Gant hates comparisons to his predecessor, but here's the plain fact: Secretary Nelson validated both of the statewide referendum petitions that came across his desk before the July 1 enactment date. He turned one of those petitions around in three days to make sure there was no statutory whiplash. Given two referral petitions to validate, Secretary Gant has pa-dinkled around on both, letting the validation drag on past the prescribed enactment that supporters wanted to avert.
And don't forget: during these past two weeks, facing an important deadline on flagship legislation, Secretary Gant has not exactly chained himself to his desk. He's been lounging about at the state GOP convention. The day he received the petitions, he drove to the Black Hills to seek a private chat over political problems with Senator Adelstein.
The failure to validate the referendum of HB 1234 before July 1 may be small potatoes; technically, the worst that happens right now is that HB 1234's numerous working groups are briefly officially authorized to have their conversations (not that the absence of legal authorization has stopped Governor Daugaard and Education Secretary Schopp from plowing ahead with their machinations). The really destructive stuff—counterproductive merit pay, elimination of teacher due process rights—doesn't kick in until later school years.
But Secretary Nelson never committed this failure. He fired up the RANDom function on Microsoft Excel (yes, we validate petitions with spreadsheets!) and got things done in time to provide statutory certainty. Secretary Gant obviously has other things on his mind than doing his job right.