Several early bills show some legislators could use a dose of common sense

January 22, 2023 7:00 am
A person climbs the stairs of the South Dakota Capitol. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

A person climbs the stairs of the South Dakota Capitol. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

It puzzles me why some South Dakota legislators, who depend on voters for their jobs, are so afraid of their constituents.

And why isn’t common sense a legislative job requirement? Oh, right. Voters establish the job criteria. Maybe that is why some legislators are petrified. If they voted the legislator into office, what might they do next?

Three bills introduced this session speak to these questions.  

First up is a bill introduced by Rep. Mary Fitzgerald, R-Spearfish. 

Fitzgerald introduced House Bill 1076, which would allow future South Dakota lawyers to skip the bar exam, and instead pass an ethics test, graduate law school and get 1,000 hours of experience under a practicing attorney.

The reason? The bar exam is too hard for some prospective lawyers. 

To be fair, we then should eliminate tests for all professions – dentists, nurses, paramedics, plumbers, electricians and, top of the list, real estate appraisers. We have seen how much of a barrier those tests are in that industry. 

Why not go a step farther? Eliminate the need for continuing education. Those tests are hard, too. Wait, South Dakota lawyers uniquely already are exempt from continuing education. Probably because they write many of the laws.

Fitzgerald justifies her legislation because rural communities have a hard time attracting lawyers. What? Are we expecting the dumb ones will go practice in the hinterlands?

It is not hard tests that keeps lawyers from small towns. It is the lifestyle. Young lawyers prefer larger communities – Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Aberdeen. Even cities like Watertown, Brookings, Mitchell and other larger cities have a hard time attracting new lawyers. 

They also have a hard time getting pastors, doctors, dentists and many other professionals. It will take more than eliminating tests to fill those more remote jobs.

Next up is a bill introduced by Sen. Fred Deutsch, R-Florence. 

Deutsch doesn’t want voters to have too much freedom. So, he introduced House Joint Resolution 5001. It already died on a 10-2 vote in the House State Affairs Committee. If passed, voters would have had to decide whether to amend the South Dakota constitution to require “an intervening general election occur before an initiated constitutional amendment that is substantially similar to an initiated amendment that was previously voted on and rejected may be submitted to a vote of the electors.”

That’s legislative gobbledygook for saying voters are not very bright, so let’s make them wait two years before revisiting the issue. 

Deutsch, in his recent legislative update letter, calls the legislation “the respect the will of the voters bill.”

If we truly respect the will of the voters, let them initiate measures as often as possible. It is not easy. To qualify an initiated measure, 16,961 valid signatures are required. To qualify a constitutional amendment question, 33,922 valid signatures are required, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. 

All Deutsch needs do to get the same amendment on the ballot is to convince a majority of the 70 representatives and 35 senators to agree. It doesn’t seem fair. 

But as we often learn, many legislators become smarter than their constituents.

The final proposed bill was introduced by Sen. John Wiik, Big Stone City. His Senate Bill 55 is slightly over 100 words. If only all proposed laws were so brief. 

Wiik just was elected South Dakota State Republican Party Chairman and already is working to restrict voter rights. 

He wants to prevent the State Board of Elections and a political subdivision from creating a system of ranked choice voting

Most voters would stare blankly when asked to explain ranked choice voting. It is not the rank choice we sometimes must make between candidates. 

Instead, it is an alternative election method not practiced in South Dakota. Each voter ranks the candidates. If there are more than two, and no one wins 50 percent, the losing candidate is eliminated, and their votes are reallocated based on who their supporters ranked as their second favorite. 

It’s an option that should remain available, especially to municipalities. Let the people decide. They often are smarter than the people they elect. 



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Brad Johnson
Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a Watertown real estate appraiser, former newspaper reporter and editor, and longtime opinion columnist.