I mentioned earlier the three bills that House State Affairs passed yesterday to put more money in legislators' pockets. I'd like to focus for a moment on House Bill 1145 and the stretchy arguments offered by its sponsor, Rep. Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City).
HB 1145, which drew no questions and no opposition in committee Wednesday, would give legislators the per diem reimbursement, $123, for attending the Governor's budget report in December and the inauguration of constitutional officers in January. In his testimony before committee, Rep. Gosch said legislators are currently spending their own resources to do their jobs and that reimbursing them for taking off work and traveling to these two events would be appropriate.
I agree that we should pay for legislators' time and expenses when they are doing the people's work as required by law. But Rep. Gosch made a couple of statements that seemed to exaggerate the requirements under which he and his colleagues labor. He opened his remarks by claiming, "I've learned recently that although certain statutes would require legislators to perform certain tasks and do their duties as legislators, they were not being reimbursed for the same." Rep. Gosch cited the budget address as an example of one such obligation, saying "many if not all Legislators make that appearance as required by statute."
Are legislators required by statute to attend the budget address? SDCL 4-7-9 requires the Governor to submit a budget report by the first Tuesday after the first Monday in December. The statute also requires that "copies thereof shall be transmitted to each member of the Legislature." But that statute contains no language requiring legislators to attend. Indeed, legislators have skipped the address with no apparent consequences (well, maybe consequences for the general welfare, but not for the legislators themselves). Legislators can watch the coverage on South Dakota Public Broadcasting. They can read the Governor's budget speech and review the budget documents online. Attendance at the budget address appears to be a choice to participate in political pageantry, not an obligation under state law.
Nor does there appear to be any legal obligation for legislators to attend the inaugural ceremonies on the Saturday before Session begins. Legislators get to take their oath on that same day before hearing the Governor's inaugural address and heading out for balls and booze in Pierre. But statute appears not to set any requirement that legislators take their oath at the inauguration.
SDCL 3-9-7 mentions the inaugural among "political meetings" for which the state shall not reimburse state officers' or employees' travel expenses unless their duties "necessarily require" their presence. Article 3 Section 8 says legislators must take their oath of office "before they enter upon their official duties." They would appear not to have any official duties until the Legislature convenes, per Article 3 Section 7, at noon on the second Tuesday in January. Taking the oath the same day as the Governor may be fun and pompy, but it does not appear to be a statutory mandate.
I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade. Legislators should be paid more to make running for and serving in the Legislature affordable for a wider array of working citizens.
But House Bill 1145 asks us to spend $12,915 to ensure a full House for a gubernatorial budget speech, then another $12,915 to pay legislators to spend a day hobnobbing and hoedowning in Pierre. At neither event do legislators make laws, hear formal testimony, or perform any duty explicitly demanded by law.
I invite you to review Article 3 of the state constitution and Title 2 of state law governing the Legislature to see if I've missed anything, but I can't find any language supporting Rep. Gosch's claim that he and his colleagues are required to attend either of the events for which HB 1145 seeks per diem reimbursement. Without more detailed legal clarification, the Legislature should kill HB 1145.