PIERRE, S.D. — A vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would require 60% of the public's approval for any future constitutional amendments that increase taxes or requires $10 million in spending will come to South Dakotans on a June, 2022 primary ballot — rather than a later general election — after the state's highest court ruled on the definition of a referable law on Wednesday, April 5.
In an unanimous 6-page decision that carried no individual author, the South Dakota Supreme Court said a legislative action must be submitted to the governor for signature or veto, among requirements, to be considered a "law," and that a resolution lawmakers passed in the 2021 session to bring a ballot question to voters at next summer's primary election is not a law that can be referred under the state constitution.
Dakotans for Health, a group seeking to expand Medicaid in the state, had sought to overturn a decision by Secretary of State Steve Barnett, when he'd objected to allowing the group to refer House Joint Resolution 5003 to voters.
HJR 5003 passed both houses of the South Dakota legislature this session, setting up a vote on an amendment that stipulates that any future, voter-approved amendment on a matter that obligates the state to spend $10 million or more in the first five years must garner 60% of the voting public's support. Currently there is no such stipulation, and constitutional amendments require 50% of the public's approval.
Barnett, wrote the court, "correctly determined that HJR 5003 does not constitute a law subject to referral and that he had no authority to file the petition."
While Dakotans for Health had maintained in court that a law could be defined as any "legislative act," the justices wrote HJR 5003 is not a "law," as it lacks "an enacting clause" and "wasn't submitted to the governor for veto or signature."
The health care group had not opposed any public vote on HJR 50003, but sought to hold the contest during a general election when more persons historically vote.
The ruling paves the way for voters to decide next June (2022) whether to make it tougher for certain amendments to be added through direct democracy to the state's constitution. Voters are expected to weigh in on two ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid to more low-income adults in November, 2022.