South Dakota voters have a chance to change the state’s constitution in the June 7 primary election, as supporters and opponents debate whether future voter-approved amendments need greater support to enter the law.
Voters will be asked to vote on Amendment C — an addition to the state constitution that would require a three-fifths vote for certain constitutional amendments proposed by the legislature and measures initiated or returned by the legislature.
Constitutional amendments or measures that increase taxes or fees and any proposal requiring the state to appropriate funds of $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years would require 60% voter approval to be adopted.
As things stand, only a simple majority of voters, 50% plus one, is required to approve these types of measures. If passed, other types of constitutional amendments will still only require a simple majority.
If Amendment C passes voters in June, a November 2022 general election amendment to expand Medicaid eligibility would require 60% of voters to approve the expansion, rather than the usual simple majority.
The expansion would qualify South Dakotans over the age of 18 and under 65, earning less than 133% of the federal poverty level for Medicaid. The expansion would add approximately 42,500 people in the first five years.
The Legislative Research Council estimated the state’s share of spending would be $166.24 million in the first five years of Medicaid expansion, with $162.47 million in fund savings. general. If approved by voters, the expansion would exceed the $10 million five-year limit proposed by Amendment C.
State Sen. Mary Duvall, R-Dist. 24, said she saw both the advantages and disadvantages of Amendment C.
“It’s one of those issues where there are very good arguments on both sides of the issue, so I personally fight with what makes the most sense for South Dakota. If we spend money money, if we create a financial obligation, I think we have to be serious about it… on the other hand, if you set the bar so high that you need a supermajority, that allows the minority to control the outcome of the election,” Duvall said.
In the 2021 session, Duvall voted to put Amendment C on the ballot.
“I think it’s something that voters should have a chance to have their say on. Let’s see what South Dakotans have to think,” Duvall said.
District 24 Republican Representatives Will Mortenson and Mike Weisgram support Amendment C.
“In South Dakota, our strength is our stability. We have had prudent fiscal management in this state for generations. We are balancing our budget. We don’t spend money or cut our income just because we can afford it for a year,” Mortenson said.
Amendment C will ensure the tradition continues, Mortenson said.
“If we are going to have a new ballot measure that spends a lot of money, we have to realize that there will be budgetary implications for that. So we don’t want to do it unless we have super majority consensus,” Mortenson said.
During times of economic insecurity, Mortenson said it’s important to have mechanisms like Amendment C to protect taxpayers.
“Ten million dollars is a substantial amount of money and it’s adjusted for inflation, which we know is skyrocketing right now. I think that number is appropriate and would have a real impact on other state priorities like education and Medicaid provider reimbursements or state compensation and state employees As soon as it starts to impact like on our big budget items I think that further consensus is needed,” he said.
Weisgram said this would ensure that future voting measures are fully crafted and carefully designed to ensure supermajority voting. In addition, it would reflect voting requirements in the Legislative Assembly.
“A tax increase or a major appropriation of tax money, the legislature has to have a two-thirds majority to move this thing forward,” Weisgram said.
As for the placement of Amendment C on the primary ballot, Weisgram said he was disappointed with the decision.
“I wasn’t mad about it. It didn’t start out that way it got changed in the Senate but it came back home and most of us voted to put it on the primary ballot and I’m somewhat melancholy at that topic. I think the impetus for that was the Medicaid Expansion Constitutional Amendment coming out in November,” Weisgram said.
He said members of the legislature want the Medicaid expansion to cross a higher threshold because of the long-term impacts it would have on the budget.
“For our electorate to think about it a little more, think about it and research it to garner 60% wouldn’t be a bad thing,” Weisgram said.
Amendment C is also supported by the South Dakota division of Americans for Prosperity, an organization that helps raise grassroots voices and advance policy in 35 states, according to their website.
“Washington is taking enough of your money and their policies are making life more expensive in South Dakota. Amendment C will preserve South Dakota’s commitment to fiscal responsibility – low taxes, no state income taxes, and a balanced budget,” read a statement on the Americans for prosperity.
Dakotans for Health, a local network in South Dakota, opposes Amendment C. The organization’s goal is to ensure quality health care, affordable prescription drugs, sustainability and justice in South Dakota, according to their website.
Adam Weiland, co-founder of Dakotans for Health, has been fighting Amendment C since receiving ballot approval in the 2021 legislative session.
“(The Legislature put Amendment C) to appear on the primary ballot when far fewer people vote, so we ended up trying to send that change back to the general election ballot where we think it needs to be vote. We ended up in state court on this, ultimately the Supreme Court ruled that the legislature could put it on the primary ballot when fewer of us voted,” Weiland said.
Weiland said the placement on the primary ballot was a deliberate attempt to alter the outcome of the November Medicaid expansion vote.
“It’s an opportunity to cheat and win on technicality by trying to impose a 60% threshold,” he said.
Weiland is concerned about minority rule, where 41% of voters could potentially decide the outcome for the remaining 59% of voters.
“The idea here is that it really attacks this principle that we have in the majority rule state. And that’s something that we don’t think should go away,” Weiland said.
He also expressed concerns about the $10 million threshold over five fiscal years imposed by Amendment C.
“It sets a very low and arbitrary figure on the increase in taxes and fees of $10 million over a five-year period. Just to give you a taste of what that looks like, the South Dakota General Fund is over $1 billion a year,” Weiland said.
Yvonne Taylor, executive director of the South Dakota Municipality, said the organization opposes Amendment C.
The Municipal League of South Dakota is an association that represents the cities and towns of South Dakota.
Taylor and Weiland share many of the same concerns about Amendment C.
“We think at a minimum that means there’s a lawsuit every time there’s something put on the ballot,” Taylor said.
Taylor said comparing Amendment C to voting requirements in the Legislative Assembly is not an accurate comparison.
“They are trying to tie this to the legislature which needs a two-thirds vote to do it, but the legislature is only 105 people. If people go to the polls and put something on the ballot, it takes much, much more than that to get it. There is a reason why only 105 people should have an increased requirement,” Taylor said.
In a press release, the Municipal League of South Dakota noted that Amendment C could affect funding for law enforcement, rural hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
Several states have laws similar to Amendment C on the books.
Florida requires a two-thirds vote to approve constitutional amendments that create new taxes or fees. Other states, such as Washington and Utah, have similar laws regarding gambling and wildlife measures, respectively.