South Dakota voters need to know the consequences of constitutional changes
AT ISSUE: This is the third week in this series regarding the ballot issues South Dakota voters must decide come the November General Election. The first week we discussed Referred Law 6 regarding the anti-abortion law. Last week we discussed the first two of the proposed constitutional amendments, C and D, or what we could call the "Good" and the "Bad," in that order, if you are a Clint Eastwood fan. Today comes E and F. The proposed Constitutional Amendment E has to be called the "Ugly."
PROPOSED AMENDMENT E has its roots in California. They couldn't get anywhere with this proposal there so they came to South Dakota to try their luck, thinking it would be easier to pass in a much less populated state. It's necessary, however, to prove them wrong.
Attorney General Larry Long said "Citizens serving on juries, school boards, city councils, county commissions, prosecutors and judges are all required to make judicial decisions. Their decisions may be reversed on appeal, or they may be removed from office for misconduct or election. However, they cannot be made to pay money damages for making such decisions. This allows them to do their job without fear of threat or reprisal from either side." If proposed Amendment E would be passed by the voters, this would all change. It would allow a special jury to "expose these decision makers to fines and jail...." That is the bottom line.
IF SUCH A CHANGE took place in our State Constitution, it would virtually be impossible to get anyone to run for any of those positions.
As Attorney Thomas Barnett wrote, "Worse yet! such an amendment would be retroactive, meaning disgruntled litigants and even convicted felons who have already exhausted all of their appeals, would be allowed to bring their cases back to this special grand jury, no matter how old..."
A vote "Yes" would change the Constitution. That would be nothing but "Ugly"² A vote "No" will leave it as it is. I am voting "No" on this one....
Constitutional Amendment F deserves a "Yes" vote, but there is a concern
PROPOSED AMENDMENT F has received very little publicity because most of it just deals with modernizing some of the legislative functions in Pierre. However, there is a concern. First of all, the good points.
The amendment will remove antiquated language that restricts legislator travel reimbursements to only a nickel a mile going to and from Pierre. This restriction has been overcome somewhat in recent years through per diem payments, etc., for the legislators, this restriction needs to be removed.
While the State House of Representatives has had electronic voting for years, there is no constitutional provision allowing this type of voting. Voting "Yes" will permit such voting in the Legislature.
It will also clean up, or remove, such things as special and private laws, whatever they are. It also would repeal a provision put in the Constitution authorizing term limits for our people in Congress. This was declared unconstitutional a few years ago, but this provision has never been removed from the State Constitution. Voting "Yes" will do that. But please understand that this has nothing to do with the term limits that are now on for our legislators and other state officials.
The proposal will also allow the Legislature to provide for the temporary succession of elected and appointed officials in an emergency.
In writing the opposing side of this proposed amendment, Rep. Burt Elliott of Aberdeen makes a strong point: "Section 6, while it looks safe enough, it would only allow a closed meeting when a 2/3 of the Legislature votes to allow it. By inserting this simple phrase into the SD Constitution you will be allowing the Legislature to close any proceedings it wish, for whatever reason they want, whenever a super majority (2/3) vote would allow it. The fact is that since statehood, the South Dakota Legislature has more often than not been composed of a super majority of one party. Political block voting or emotions of the moment could close the political process to the press and public..."
This could be easily construed to be in serious violation of our state's open meeting laws. This presents a most grim reminder of what could happen.
Saying that, I still feel Constitutional Amendment F deserves your "Yes" vote. At the same time, if there is the slightest hint that Section 6 is abused, I will be first to carry petitions to remove it from the people's Constitution....
Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion and recently retired after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.