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HB 1210: Hickey Tackles GOP Secret Pre-Hearing Decisions on Bills

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.


  1. Michael Dulitz 2015.02.04

    The legislature needs more people like Steve Hickey. Legislators willing to cross the aisle, challenge the status quo, and fight for what he believes in. While one may not agree with him on many (or most) topics, he seems interested in finding common ground to get things done.
    I hope the loneliness felt by challenging the legislature's leadership is overcome by the praise of your constituents.

  2. Bob klein 2015.02.04

    "Wear a donkey tail"

  3. Les 2015.02.04

    It's a game played by the party in control. If this game wasn't being played we might see an overhaul of our road tax for example instead of the back room chickenspit fees hitting grandpa n grandma the same as they hit my trucks. No new taxes, not even an original DD.

  4. David Newquist 2015.02.04

    This paragraph from Bob Mercer this morning set off the nefariousness-afoot alarm this morning;

    "Something unusual took place Tuesday in the state House of Representatives. The unofficial report from the closed-door House Republican caucus is emotions ran extremely high. There is a tussle under way about which House committee shall ultimately deliver judgment on Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s measure, House Bill 1131, for highway and bridge funding increases."

    The Rev. Hickey senses that his party conducts itself consistently in ways to search out destroy any governmental functions that verge into the premise of democracy. In a republic, citizens do not forgo their right to monitor what is taking place. But secrecy and subterfuge has become the ruling premise during the long history of one party rule. At least Rep. Hickey indicates that he does not subscribe to the Vladimir Putin school of theology. He keeps a tiny spark glowing that South Dakota might become a democracy, and members of the press will actually report what takes place in governmental caucuses, not report "unofficial" rumors.

  5. Dave Baumeister 2015.02.04

    I do not know him, personally, but I like Rev. Hickey. What I have picked up about him, whether there are issues on which we agree or disagree, he is always willing to listen. In fact he seems to be more than willing to listen, he seems to want to understand.The main place I came up with that feeling is from this blog. And the main things I have found myself questioning him on are some of his views on sexuality. But I have really wondered if much of those simply came from a lack of understanding. I'm a teacher: I despise people who don't understand something and refuse to learn; however, I applaud people who don't understand something, readily admit they don't understand something, and express the idea that they want to learn. In general, Rev. Hickey seems to want to be a good servant of the people.

  6. Disgusted Dakotan 2015.02.04

    So... after 4 years, Steve Hickey figured out the pre-committee meetings are wrong and tacitly supported them, but now claims they are "illegal" after his bill falls prey? And he still supports the equally illegal closed door daily pre-session meetings?

    To look for how Steve Hickey really is, outside the usual grab for media attention, look at his previous positions on similar open government bills requiring these meetings to be open.

  7. Steve Hickey 2015.02.04

    It's a rare moment when I get some blog love coming my way. It's appreciated but I've learned to not take too seriously either the praise or the rejection of man.

    My bill isn't so much related to my economic crisis bill dying - though 6 of the 7 cosigners on the committee suddenly flipped on it. That's odd. There are other bigger bills coming that I want a fair shake on. In the past I've felt like I waste months of time and people on both sides of the state waste gas and take a day off work to come here to speak for something important to them--- only to get here and it's decided already, including the orchestration of who will offer the motion to kill the bill and second that motion.

    Disgusted- are you Stace? For starters, the media calls me not the other way around. Second, I don't think I ever had a chance to vote on Stace's open government bills. Maybe you can prove me wrong.

  8. larry kurtz 2015.02.04

    DD reads just like Stace, init?

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.04

    Bob, I appreciate your close attention! Now I'm going to go take my homonym pills. :-)

  10. Curt 2015.02.04

    Any idea why the Dems voted to kill it and the only 'aye' was Munsterman?

  11. Curt 2015.02.04

    Excuse me. Since the motion was to defer to Day 41, Munsterman was the only 'nay.'

  12. Roger Elgersma 2015.02.04

    Seeing ones friends flip on you without warning or even giving a reason is not fair. Not that life is fair but who can trust who after that. The public does need to know the reasons. This adds to general distrust in the system.
    I do think that the whole issue of exposing how vulnerable the South Dakota balanced budget is dependent on the feds not balancing theirs is sort of an embarrassing situation. Republicans generally are status quo people and Democrats want to improve the world. So pointing out that there are systemic problems disheartens the Republican base. So Republicans have an inherent conflict of interest to let it be known that their are problems in the status quo. This makes secret changes of opinion and secrecy on EB 5 etc. basic to making conservatives feel comfortable with the world.

  13. MC 2015.02.04

    Rep. Hickey doesn't support the Republican party, nor should he.

    Rep. Hickey supports ALL of the people in District 9. It matters not if they are republican, democrat, independent or what ever. He represents the seasoned citizens, and those yet to be born, and everyone in between. He is not beholden to a company, or to a party. If there is something rotten in Pierre that prevents him from doing the job we (the voters of dist 9)sent him to do, then I will support him in making it right.

    But Steve;

    You had better be right about this.

  14. Disgusted Dakotan 2015.02.04

    Rep. Hickey, According to Larry, I am "Happy Camper." Clearly I am "Disgusted Dakotan" and no other. Is it the issues you wish to discuss or is your aim to distract the discussion with speculations as to who I am? I for one don't see the man behind every criticism of every moderate in SD.

    Since you raised the specter of former Representative Nelson, and claimed "I don't think I ever had a chance to vote on Stace's open government bills." Are you saying that you were prevented from testifying on behalf of those bills or signing on as a sponsor of the bills he brought? Are you saying you were secretly supportive of those open government efforts but were simply MIA? or are you saying you just recently converted to supporting such efforts?

  15. leslie 2015.02.04

    so les, you have a buncha big trucks on the road like my good old friends the roths?! (trucks produce 99% highway damage i think) your comment about granny said like a democrat! good on yah

    btw-way to go hickey!! also,"rejection of man." women too i am sure u mean. we forget about that 51% sometimes;)?

    bbtw-dn& re, i agree, REAL investigations for EB5!!!


    c-gay donkey tail? wtf

    gee, DD, stace or whoever, you took the 1st shot, and you may want to google "init" (have yah seen Sherman Alexie's "smoke signals"?)

  16. Troy 2015.02.04


    This is not a comment on the bill itself but on of the rationales: Boards and commissions must adhere to the open meetings laws thus so should the legislators.

    Fundamentally, there is a difference in boards/commissions and legislators that should be remembered.

    1) Boards and Commissions are comprised of people who are appointed to the position and only indirectly accountable the public.

    2) Members of Congress and Legislators are unique in they are directly elected by their neighbors to do the business for their constituents and can be replaced at election time.

    To the degree there should be different standards or even the same standards on this matter is something we can discuss and debate but the idea they are the same is inaccurate.

    That said, I do have a comment on the bill. It specifically says a quorum of a committee can't via text, email, or meet to "discuss, debate, or decide."

    Really, they can't send a group email as they discuss merits, potential amendments etc.? 90% of what is discussed about a bill aren't partisan or deep ideology issues but technical amendments (is this the right word or place?), whether it should be permissive or not (shall or may), intended consequences and unintended consequences, etc.

    If we force every detailed matter to only be discussed in committee meetings, do you have any idea how much of meetings will be taken up on minor minutiae? Do you really want time for discussion of substantive issues to be crowded out because of technical matters?

    Let's imagine someone has nefarious intent. Under which scenario do you think we are more likely to find out there is something nefarious:

    1) A group communication regardless of the media or method, or

    2) 5 or 6 private conversations with only two people present?

    While Representative Hickey thinks it odd ("My bill isn't so much related to my economic crisis bill dying - though 6 of the 7 cosigners on the committee suddenly flipped on it. That's odd."), my experience is that legislators "flip" back and forth and back and forth right up to the final vote all the time.

    Most bills are not clearly "bad" or "good" or partisan/ideological but have merits and demerits. Legislators have both sides (lobbyists, constituents, other legislators) in their ears non-stop throughout the entire Session. With new information, they reformulate their positions all the time and wouldn't you want your legislators to be generally open to new argument?.

    Usually when you have a bill you care about, you hope the flips just even themselves out but sometimes it doesn't happen. My experience is when everyone "flips" one way all at once, the bill had a fundamental flaw. I'll never forget the one bill I had where I thought I might lose one or two Democrats. I showed up in committee, gave my testimony and when I finished and had answered a softball question or two (probably just to be polite- certainly didn't get the 30 minutes the above bill got) Sen. Stoick had a Page hand me a note that said "Nope" (which I thought meant he was voting no), nobody spoke against, and they called the roll- Unanimous against the bill.

    I was embarrassed (told my superiors it was a done deal) and personally shell-shocked. Later that day, I saw the Chmn and asked essentially "WTF?" He told me and after I got over my emotions, I accepted it had a fundamental flaw (too broad and permissive). I fixed it the following year and it passed with broad support.

    Yes, if I had known the problem just a day before, I could have gotten it in good shape but their time is limited. As members they didn't focus on the bill until they prepared likely the night before or that morning before the meeting, someone saw the problem, pointed it out in a "private group communication" and bang, dead.

    Double the days they are in session, I'd be more likely to add laborious process to the system. With only 40 days, one has to be organized and well-prepared. I wasn't and got what I deserved.

  17. Steve Hickey 2015.02.04

    Disgusted Dakotan. In your reply is an admission that your earlier assertion that my previous positions are against open govt is patently false and you were unable to back it up with evidence.

    But you go on to assert that I was MIA in the state affairs committee where Stace Nelsons bills were going down in flames. Of course the norm here is we wait for bills to come before us and those never made it. With few exceptions do legislators show up in other committees to support other bills. We are in our own committees and we get called out enough already. Besides, I didn't agree with the spirit behind those bills or have any interest to be associated with a scorched earth approach to change.

    It's odd to get chided here on transparency by someone in the darkness and shadows of anonymity.

  18. leslie 2015.02.04

    troy, are all endings happy on your side of the aisle? birds singing, big smiles all around, beautiful sunset, "happy trails to you"... doh dee dum...;)

    i didn't think you had actually been anything other than appointed.

  19. mike from iowa 2015.02.04

    Hickey,you should get to like me. I'm not a man,I'm mike from iowa.

  20. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.04

    Leslie, "Smoke Signals" is a wonderful movie. Parts were laugh out loud funny. Other parts brought tears to my eyes. It is so American Indian. White people ought to watch it, judgment-free, for the insight it expresses on Indian culture. I have it on DVD and use it to educate those willing to learn.

    "Your father . . . " Hahahaha!

  21. Deb Geelsdottir 2015.02.04

    Good on ya Hickey. Best of luck with this. It's the right thing.

  22. bearcreekbat 2015.02.04

    Kudos to you on this issue Rep. Hickey!

  23. grudznick 2015.02.04

    Mr. Hickey seems a good egg and a pot stirrer.

  24. Disgusted Dakotan 2015.02.04

    Rep Hickey,
    It is obvious why your bill didn't pass. Clearly you are confused who your opponents on the bill were.

    Obviously, if your fight is with a known pro-government former representative, and more concerned with professing a secretive understanding of the spirit of the bills you supported but didn't, then you can understand my incredulity at your sincerity now.

    FYI, there were no admissions or assertions made in my post regardless of your desire to distract from the pointed questions.

    You may wish to polish up on your understanding of whom is responsible to who.. I'm the voting public, your an elected official. You are supposed to answer to us.

  25. Disgusted Dakotan 2015.02.04


  26. Jim 2015.02.05

    Troy, county commissioners are elected. They can discuss issues with each just not if a quorum is present. I would think the legislative committees could act in a similar way. I think too many show up to those meetings unprepared, look around and say 'ok, what are doing on this one'? Then the chair or a whip tell them how to vote, and nobody has to be late to the party that night. The meetings are a crutch, and if they can't be open, they shouldn't have them.

  27. Troy 2015.02.05


    That is true. I don't want to split hairs but to some degree I am. I admit it.

    In our system, the people created the States.

    The States created the federal government and ceded some sovereignty to the federal government under the Constitution.

    The States created the local governments with no ceding of sovereignty as the State can change the rules with regard to local government even to the point of eliminating it. So, local elected leaders might be chosen by the local district but they are some degree accountable to the State (which is technically the most directly accountable to the people as a group.

    That said, to your point, if CH had compared legislators to local elected officials instead of Boards and Commissions, it would be a stronger argument regarding this bill.

    And, that said, I still believe the email/text prohibition adds way too much cumbersome restriction just from a practical point of view. We can't have the mundane minutiae take up the limited time of committee meetings.

  28. leslie 2015.02.06

    devils in the details

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