When legislators take others’ time

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.



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About Bob Mercer

I am a newspaper reporter in Pierre where I cover state government, issues and politics for the Aberdeen American News, the Black Hills Pioneer, the Mitchell Daily Republic, the Pierre Capital Journal, the Rapid City Journal, the Watertown Public Opinion and the Yankton Press & Dakotan. I began covering the Legislature in 1985 and have lived in Pierre since December 1986. I grew up in Wisconsin, worked my way through college, took my first full-time newspapers jobs in Wyoming, and have lived in South Dakota since the summer of 1984 when I moved to Aberdeen to join the American News. I worked for the Rapid City Journal as its state government reporter in Pierre from late 1992 through late 1998. I spent four years as press secretary and a senior aide to Gov. Bill Janklow during his fourth and final term from late 1998 through 2002. I returned to journalism in January 2003 as a self-employed reporter, providing state government coverage to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre and, depending on the year, Aberdeen newspapers. In 2008, the Aberdeen American News offered to hire me as full-time member of the AAN staff, with my reports continuing to be available to the Mitchell, Watertown, Spearfish, Pierre, Yankton and Rapid City papers. The new arrangement has been in effect since January 2009 as the seven papers continue their remarkable dedication to their readers and the general public, as the only South Dakota news outlets with a full-time reporter covering state government in Pierre throughout the year. In addition to focusing on the Legislature during the annual winter session and its various activities during the interim periods between sessions, I spend many days throughout the year -- traveling as often necessary -- to cover state government boards and commissions which oversee the state universities, technical institutes, outdoors, water, environment, business, public schools, banking, agriculture, utilities, health care and various other areas of public interest. I purposely don't register to vote because of my profession; the last time I recall voting in a presidential election was the first time, 1976, when I had just turned 18. I think I voted for Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford. Make of that what you want, just don't make much of it.

7 thoughts on “When legislators take others’ time

  1. Steve Hickey

    Bob – my phone number is readily available to you and as I indicated in my DM to you, I’m happy to give you whatever info you need so you don’t have to make assumptions. Don’t spin this as me wasting anyones time as we were very ready and motivated to do a signature drive. Various organizations have been getting on board for a few months and they still are meeting and pushing me to meet this week. This coalition is just getting started. A poll was done and the public clearly wants some changes here. It was essential to get the paperwork properly filed and ready. Getting to the point of good solutions is a long process sometimes and you know in the legislature we regularly take several runs at a problem from several angles and change things up as others get involved. There are two reasons this initiative-that-never-was is no waste of state employee time. First, it took something to wake up the industry to join the conversation about reasonable regulations. Second, if we are not able to get a legislative solution, at least we can say all attempts were fully exhausted and all the work done here on the language for this initiative is ready to go for 2016. Cosmetic political purposes? This IM was not that.

  2. Steve Hickey

    I probably should log off for the day because my patience is short. Do have any idea how much unpaid time is spent by legislators like myself on state business? Call my wife if you want an answer on that one. These state agencies that you feature at the bottom of your post who never submit a bill not intended to become law – these are full-time people right? They all have staff and legal experts working all year long on their bills right? Legislators don’t. Cosmetic political purposes? Phooey on that. I sneak precious free moments here and there to do this work and I’m not complaining. I get a little fried to be portrayed as some schmutz wasting state time on stuff that has no chance at becoming law. :-)

  3. interested party

    Rep. Hickey agree about 16.2% of the time but he’s right on here: initiated law is a blunt instrument subject to the whims of the legislature anyway. The best law is hammered out in committee: that South Dakota is infamous for taxing those least able to pay makes me puke.

  4. polly politic

    Not all bills that don’t make it out of committee are frivolous either or a waste of time. Many are very important to the people who asked a legislator to bring them. Some very good bills don’t get out of committee for reasons unrelated to the merits of the bill.

    The legislature (govt) is supposed to work for the people, and one of the ways we the people have to get a concern addressed is through the legislative process, so please don’t assume that we the people are wasting the gov’ts time when we deem an issue important enough to ask that it be addressed.

    My comments have nothing to do with Steve Hickey’s proposed IM or hope for the legislature to act on this issue. It’s just a comment in general.

  5. Bob

    I’ve had those same thoughts a number of times, Bob. One of the biggest time wasters is all the resolutions that get introduced during the session. Not only do LRC staffers spend a lot of time on them, but they also don’t even have to go through the scrutiny of a committee so they all get heard on the floor.

    Some of the longest and most angry debates I ever heard on the House floor were over some uber-partisan resolutions that have no effect other than to please the prime sponsor, or to “get someone on the record”.

    Most are titled something like “to urge Congress” or “to urge the President” to do one thing or another. I promise you that Congress or the President seldom, if ever, sees the resolution, and really could care less about it.

    Putting people on the record is a fun game that partisans and right wingers like to play, but 99% of the voters never hear about it, and normally don’t care.

    I always wanted to introduce a resolution urging that we no longer have resolutions. They’re nothing but huge time-wasters and instruments of hard feelings.

    1. lora

      Bob, Its laughable to think legislators WRITE bills. Those who try get shot down by the executive branch that only wants THEIR DEPARTMENT bills to hit the floor of Senate or House of Reps. They work ALL YEAR on bills OR the they send naïve Reps to the Council of State Governments… a BILL MILL where the lemmings go to copy and paste bills written by the Open Society Foundation, the Tides foundation and any other trade union or under its umbrella (including the National Governors association). Legislators may get a frivolous bill passed just to get their picture taken with the Governor…but they are ham-stringed into bringing and voting on bill that are already ripe when session comes along. PLUS we pay this organization $150,000 a year to have them manipulate us…..

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