A labor agency goes to court today in Pierre as it sues state officials over a ballot issue in the November election. The South Dakota State Federation of Labor objects to how Attorney General Marty Jackley explains a constitutional amendment concerning how employees in a workplace may join a union. A hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. today before Circuit Judge John Brown in the Hughes County Courthouse.
State senators changed legislation Thursday so that registered voters who have been inactive would still have the right to sign petitions to put a constitutional amendment, initiative or referendum on the South Dakota election ballot. The legislation, Senate Bill 13, contains a variety of changes in South Dakota election laws. It now heads to the House of Representatives for a committee hearing and possible action by the full House.
In 2006, South Dakota had an initiative on the ballot to ban virtually all abortions. An anonymous donor had contributed $750,000 to get the initiative on the ballot and to carry on the campaign for it. The measure lost, 46% to 54%. Also in 2006, the South Dakota Secretary of State had sued the campaign committee set up to promote the initiative to learn the identity of the committee’s donor.
South Dakota’s voter turnout for next November’s election could be a lot different than past years. A local political science professor says a smoking ban on that ballot would likely lure more people to the polls. He says that could have an impact on other initiatives and political races.
A new group is forming in opposition to the idea of bringing embryonic stem cell research back to a South Dakota ballot. The Coalition for Cures Not Cloning is the new group. They say they’ll be making an official announcement Thursday. The group will be planning efforts to fight a 2010 initiative that would reverse the current ban on cloning and embryonic stem cell research.
In a drive to get an initiative before voters in 2010 that would allow embryonic stem cell research in South Dakota, David Volk is convinced he has tapped into a wellspring of enthusiasm. “For 40 years I’ve been in South Dakota politics in one form or another. I’ve never been involved in a campaign for a candidate or an issue campaign where I’ve had this response,” says the former state treasurer, who suffered from cancer, an area of inquiry for stem cell research.
Eight states - Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Oregon - ban or restrict paying people who collect signatures on a ballot initiative, referendum or recall petition based on their productivity, or the number of signatures they collect. Payment-per-signature allows citizens greater certainty in judging the cost of a petition effort. Moreover, in states that have passed such bans, the cost of successfully completing a petition drive has risen considerably, sometimes more than doubling.
The legal battle over South Dakota’s strengthened smoking ban focuses on a judge’s decision about whether technical errors were substantial enough to toss out more than 25,000 petition signatures calling for a statewide public vote on the issue. Bars and gambling businesses that oppose the ban collected signatures to force a public vote in the November 2010 election, but Secretary of State Chris Nelson eventually rejected the petitions, ruling that too few valid signatures were submitted. The petitions fell 221 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot, he said.
The fight continues in South Dakota over banning smoking in state bars and restaurants. The focus is now on how referendum petitions were notarized, and the voices of over 2000 voters could be silenced in the debate.
Questions raised over the smoking ban petition are a lesson for another group hoping to get its initiative on the ballot. With 7,500 signatures, the petition to bring the issue of legalizing medical marijuana to a state-wide vote is well on its way. “The pace has really picked up, and I’m very confident we’ll meet our goal of 25,000 signatures by the end of August,” Petition Coordinator Emmett Reistroffer said.