HURON — Thirty-four organizations in South Dakota have joined together in a ballot committee coalition urging voters to reject Constitutional Amendment W next month.
The proposed amendment, in response to the Legislature’s repeal of Initiated Measure 22 passed by voters in 2016, is being pushed by Represent South Dakota.
But Mike Held, speaking on behalf of the Vote No on W coalition, said Represent South Dakota is not an organization registered by the secretary of state’s office, but a political ballot committee only.
He said Constitutional Amendment W is the most significant of the five measures on the Nov. 6 election ballot. He spoke Monday at the Beadle County Republican Party campaign luncheon.
The amendment proposes eight-plus pages of new language in the Constitution that would take priority over all existing current language, Held said.
It means Constitutional Amendment W will prevail over the language South Dakota has had for 135 years, put together by the forefathers and tweaked over time, he said.
The ethics panel proposed by the amendment would impact all state and local officials, including employees, and would have the power to investigate, subpoena, sanction and harass, Held said.
It would also be able to intervene in any civil lawsuit involving any entity or contract.
The amendment could only be changed by a vote of the people in a future election, he said.
The coalition says there would be no review of rules like every other agency and department, meaning the creation of a fourth branch of state government.
The amendment would mandate an annual expenditure of nearly $400,000 to finance the expenses of the ethics panel.
Held said the panel as proposed doesn’t exist in any other state constitution.
“Some states have ethics statutes, and an ethics panel in their statutes, but nobody does it in the constitution like these people would like to do,” he said.
Among the entities opposing Constitutional Amendment W are the South Dakota Municipal League, South Dakota Association of County Commissioners, the Associated School Boards of South Dakota and several chambers of commerce, including Huron’s chamber.
Held said Represent South Dakota spent $1.5 million to pass IM 22 two years ago. One television ad showed a lobbyist handing cash to a legislator under the table.
As a long-time lobbyist, he found that repulsive.
“That is just absolutely so off base. In my 40 years I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
Also on the ballot are two other constitutional amendments and two initiated measures. They are:
• IM 24 – Would prohibit out-of-state individuals, organizations and political action committees not filed with the secretary of state from participating monetarily in ballot initiatives in the state.
Held said it’s “an idea that’s been around for a few years and really gained ground in the 2016 election with $13 million spent on ballot measures.”
• IM 25 – Would raise the tobacco tax, providing the first $20 million for technical institutes to help with tuition and to beef up programming. Legislators would decide how to spend the other $5 million the increased tax would raise.
• Constitutional Amendment Z – Would establish that a proposed constitutional amendment could embrace only one subject. It came from a summer task force and was placed on the ballot by legislators.
• Constitutional Amendment X – Also a task force proposal. It would require a 55 percent vote to pass a constitutional amendment, not a simple majority vote.