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Monday, September 22, 2008

Voters need to pass Amendment G to get legislative travel up to date

By Gordon Garnos

AT ISSUE: Without knowledge of the Swiss initiative, South Dakota created in 1898 the American version of both the initiative and the referendum. These processes of bringing statewide issues to a vote of the people are now available in 24 states. They are to place new legislation on the popular ballot or place laws recently passed by the Legislature on the ballot. South Dakota voters have four constitutional amendments and three initiated measures to either vote for or against come the November 4 General Election.

Today's column and the next five columns will discuss each one with this columnist's voting recommendations.

THE FIRST PROPOSAL on the Nov. 4 ballot for South Dakotans will be Constitutional Amendment G. This is an interesting one as it removes from the state's Constitution the mileage rate for legislators to come to the state capital for the session and then return home after the session. This has been on the books almost forever. Back in the state's early years most of our legislators had to travel to Pierre by either train or horseback and the going rate in those days, as well as today, was only five cents a mile.

According to South Dakota's attorney general, Larry Long, who writes the official explanation of each initiative and referendum, "The Constitution fixes the mileage reimbursement rate for legislators at five cents per mile for their travel to and from legislative sessions.

"Constitutional Amendment G would repeal this constitutional limitation."

Okay. That's the attorney general's explanation, but what does that all mean? Here's where it gets fun as a proponent and an opponent have the opportunity to argue the proposition. State Rep. Larry Lucas, a Democrat from Mission, wrote the proponents' side on "G" and state Sen. Gene Abdallah, a Republican from Sioux Falls, presented the opponents' side of the issue.

Lucas wrote, "The five cent per mile reimbursement relates back to 1891.
Removing this language from our constitution will allow for an accurate and fair method of mileage reimbursement as provided by law... A vote in favor of this amendment will allow for all legislative travel to be at the state rate of reimbursement."

This amendment was a recommendation of the 2004 Constitutional Revision Commission and since the purpose of a constitution is to establish the framework for a government and to subject everyone fairly to the law, placing a rate of travel reimbursement within this document is inappropriate.

Senator Abdallah argued, "This proposal changes a provision that has been in our South Dakota Constitution for 116 years and during that time it hasn't hurt anybody. There are serious constitutional revisions that could be considered, that would affect the lives of people in our state, and this is not one of them. I oppose adding meaningless amendments to our fall ballot that makes it longer than it needs to be for our state's work to get done."

That five cents per mile is for only one trip to and from Pierre. That may have been the way things were done a hundred years ago, but most legislators go home almost every weekend ‹ to rest, to visit constituents and take care of their private businesses. They deserve more reimbursement.

Therefore, a "Yes" vote on Amendment G is suggested.....

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT "H"--This is a pro-business proposal. Rep. Mark Feinstein, a Democrat from Sioux Falls, and Patrick Goetinger of Rapid City, co-chairs of the Business Law Committee of the State Bar of South Dakota, wrote for the proponents of this proposal. There was no opponent writer who could be found.

Our Attorney General explained the proposition this way, "The Constitution limits 'corporations' to business entities with powers or privileges not possessed by individuals or partnerships. The Constitution also requires the payment of money, property or labor for issuance of corporate stock and bonds; prohibits the increase of corporate stock and debt without consent of stockholders holding a large value of stock first obtained; and protects cumulative voting rights of stockholders.

Amendment H would repeal the above provisions and permit a 2008 legislative bill to become law. This would allow a corporation to restrict cumulative voting and issue corporate stock for any consideration determined to be adequate by its board of directors.

Since the voters, including myself, do not have an opponent's views on this, nor do we know of any opposition to this amendment proposal I would recommend a "Yes" vote on this one.....

NEXT WEEK: Constitutional Amendment I--Lengthening the number of days for a legislative session.

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.


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