SD lawmakers weigh whether to change how voters modify laws

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota lawmakers will consider more than 20 measures that could alter how voters consider policy changes via the ballot.

The proposals range from modifying font size to barring voters from bringing constitutional amendments to the ballot, the Argus Leader reported .

Opponents called the measures an unprecedented attack on the direct democracy process a year after legislators blocked a campaign finance and ethics measure approved by voters.

Republican lawmakers said voters were "hoodwinked" by a Massachusetts group that bankrolled the campaign.

Republican Rep. Mark Mickelson and others then began a campaign to block foreign influence on state laws. Mickelson collected signatures to bring the issue before voters.

A task force met over the summer and brought forth eight bills to change the initiative and referendum process. Some of measures would require disclosing cost estimates for ballot proposals or would change how those who bring proposals forward work with the Legislative Research Council.

Legislators also introduced proposals when they reconvened earlier this year, including geographic requirements for signature gatherers or requiring lawmakers to sign off on constitutional amendments prior to referral. One measure proposed banning campaigns from paying petition circulators.

"What I think we're seeing now is an unprecedented attack on the initiated measure process," said Doug Kronaizl, a direct democracy advocate. Kronaizl said he's concerned that the large amount of proposals to consider will allow some to pass through without citizen input.

Senate Majority Leader Blake Curd disagreed. "I don't think that just because people bring things up to talk about them means that it rises to the level of an attack or a threat," Curd said.

Some have expressed concern that raising the threshold for passing amendments at the ballot could prove unfair to future voters.

"You essentially are going to have a situation where the voters of today are deciding for the voters of the future and are holding them to a higher standard than what folks have been held to for a long long time in South Dakota," said Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton.

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