The fact that Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, isn’t pursuing signatures after all on his proposed initiative to cap interest rates on some types of loans brings to mind two sets of thoughts.
The first thoughts: If time is money, money was spent by three state offices in getting the measure ready. First, he used a member of the Legislative Research Council to prepare the first draft. He then submitted that draft to the LRC’s then-director, Jim Fry, for the required LRC review. “There is interest to take this matter to the ballot and I agreed to get it ready,” Hickey wrote to Fry. The LRC letter completing that review was sent back to Hickey on Aug. 2. From there, Hickey went to state Attorney General Marty Jackley seeking preparation of the ballot explanation. Jackley had his explanation language hand-delivered to Secretary of State Jason Gant on Sept. 12. Hickey gave his name and home address for the sponsoring organization, South Dakotans for Responsible Lending. On Sept. 25, Hickey became the first signer of the official petition and received an official letter of clearance from Deputy Secretary of State Patricia Miller. She wrote: “You may begin to circulate these petitions today.” The news that Hickey wasn’t pursuing signatures came only after I published on this blog last weekend that this was the third petition effort under way to put a measure on the 2014 ballot. I noted in the blog post that the web site listed on the petition signer handout (which was also filed by Hickey on Sept. 25 with the secretary of state) didn’t work, and there wasn’t a statement of organization filed with the secretary of state by Hickey’s group. I mistakenly assumed that if a state legislator received the green light for a petition drive on Sept. 25, with a due date of Nov. 4, that the signature effort would be under way. I’ll take my 20 lashes for taking someone at his apparent word. (It’s not the first time…)
The second set of thoughts: Many times in legislative sessions there are bills introduced by representatives and senators that aren’t serious efforts to pass a law. They are introduced by legislators seeking to make political statements, or to fulfill promises, or as duplicates, or as placeholders (aka carcasses or vehicles) for wholesale rewriting later for other purposes. Again, if time is money, money is spent by LRC staff on these kinds of bills. Time/money also is spent by organizations, lobbyists and interested citizens in reading and analyzing and preparing to counter or support or amend these bills. How frequently does this happen? In the 2013 legislative session, there were 242 bills introduced by senators. Of those, 119 became law, while 84 didn’t survive their first step of Senate committee hearings (the others met their deaths at other steps farther along the way). In the House, 250 bills were introduced. Of those, 141 became law and 86 died in their first step of House committee hearings. I’m not suggesting that all 84 Senate bills and all 86 House bills that died in their first hearings were frivolous. But there’s an old saying in the Legislature about shooting your own dog. That saying is old because this has been happening a long time, certainly much longer than I’ve been alive.
Are these wastes? Consider a final perspective. I can’t recall a state government agency, the state court system or the state Board of Regents to have submitted a bill for introduction that wasn’t intended to become law. They sometimes failed, but they weren’t intended for politically cosmetic purposes.