Bob Mercer follows up on his Wednesday list of legislator out-of-state travel reimbursements with a big Sunday feature on the Legislature's far-too-loose travel policy. Evidently the Legislature continues to slide away from rule of law and down into the arbitrary discretion of one man.
Mercer reports that the Legislature has a list of approved events for which legislators can foot the bill. But faced with requests from lawmakers who went to events off that list, the Legislature's Executive Board lost its nerve and handed decisions over to their chair:
But at least one trip fell outside those approved events.
Rep. Isaac Latterell, R-Tea, and Rep. Jim Stalzer, R-Sioux Falls, attended the meeting of the group called the Mount Vernon Assembly held in Indianapolis in June.
Maher said he gave that trip the go-ahead because last year he approved a trip by Rep. Ray Ring, D-Vermillion, to a special economic conference.
Rather than fight over the Mount Vernon matter, or tighten the policy, the board instead loosened the approval policy by adding a sentence to the policy effective Oct. 1 to give the chairman more latitude. It says, “Any out of state travel to a non-mentioned organization shall be at the discretion of the Executive Board chair” [Bob Mercer, "Secrecy Surounds Increased Travel by South Dakota Lawmakers," Rapid City Journal, 2014.09.14].
Combine this increased latitude with the Legislature's decision to end election of the Executive Board chair and hand that position to the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro-tem (in alternating years), and we see one less chance for accountability to policy and open vote and one more chance to concentrate power in the hands and the whim of one legislator.
Related Arithmetic: Eight Democratic legislators and seventeen Republican legislators have submitted vouchers for out-of-state travel since the end of the 2014 session. The average travel expense request among the Democrats is $741. The average travel expense expense request among the Republicans is $1,633. The thriftiest traveler is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Susan Wismer, who vouchered $252.51 for one trip. The most profligate globetrotter is Republican Speaker of the House Brian Gosch, who is claiming $4,339.09 for two trips.