South Dakota lawmakers on Friday dismissed a proposal that the state constitution ban ballot measures from being reconsidered if they failed in the previous election.
The Republican-controlled House State Affairs Committee rejected the proposed constitutional amendment after lawmakers said it relied on vague language and unwieldy implementation. One Republican criticized its interference with citizens’ ability to directly change laws in South Dakota, which was the first state to enshrine the ballot measure process.
The proposed constitutional amendment, which would have prevented rejected ballot initiatives from appearing in the next election, would have needed to gain a majority in the next election to be enacted.
Republican Rep. Fred Deutsch, who spearheaded the effort, brought the proposal after voters rejected a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana last year, but legalization advocates say they plan to put the proposal back on ballots in the next election.
“The voters just said no. Can’t we respect the will of the voters for at least one election cycle?” Deutsch said.
The Republican-controlled Legislature has tried in recent years to curtail the ballot initiative process after progressive measures, such as Medicaid expansion and medical marijuana legalization, have found favor with voters.
But Deutsch’s proposal struggled to gain support, even with his fellow Republican lawmakers.
Opponents argued it would result in countless lawsuits because of the amendment’s wording: to limit ballot measures that are “substantially similar” to prior measures. Other opponents urged caution when amending the state’s constitution and limiting a form of direct democracy.
“I have hesitations on what this does to election law,” said Republican Rep. Becky Drury. “This impedes on people’s right to bring measures.”
The Legislature is also considering a bill, proposed by Attorney General Marty Jackley, to make it a felony for ballot petition circulators to commit perjury.
Jackley said the proposal would strengthen election laws by instituting a criminal punishment. He pointed to a 2014 case in which he attempted to prosecute a Republican Senate candidate for perjury for misrepresenting her candidate nominating petitions. The state Supreme Court overturned the convictions.
But Rick Weiland, who started an organization that operates ballot measure campaigns, including a campaign to place abortion rights in the state constitution, said bills like Jackley’s would have a “chilling effect” on ballot measure campaigns.
He said, “It’s more about intimidating people that want to get involved in direct democracy.”S