We are now in the third week of session, which means we are nearing the deadline for bill introductions. There are rumors and speculations that we could have upwards of 600 bills – not a record for the legislature, but far above the unusually low number of bills introduced last year. Many of these are “cleanup” bills, which do not make substantive policy changes but are more akin to uncluttering your closet.
The significant policy bills will start taking our time and attention from now through the end of Session. Among them is a proposal dealing with legislator compensation. When South Dakota first adopted its constitution, Article III, Section 6 established a salary of five dollars for each day of session, plus ten cents per mile for one round trip between the legislator’s home and the State Capitol. Voters in 1946 amended the Constitution to state that the Legislature, by two-thirds vote, may fix the salary of the constitutional officers, including members of the Legislature. The salary in 1947 was $1,050 for a biennial session. That would be equivalent to $11,763 in today’s dollars.
Since 1998, state legislators have received a salary of $6,000 per year. There is a proposal to remove the ability of legislators to set their own salaries, and instead ask voters to amend the Constitution to set the salary at an amount equal to 20 percent of the median household income in South Dakota. (Based on 2016 numbers, that would be slightly over $10,000.)
Legislators I have visited with are not opposed to allowing voters to set their salaries; however, there are concerns about asking for a pay raise when state employee salaries are falling further behind the market.
District 24 legislators had the opportunity to participate in our first legislative coffee last weekend in Pierre. One of the issues that came up is concern about lack of transparency in state government. For the past several years, there has been a concerted effort to ensure that public information is readily accessible to the public. South Dakota’s Transparency Website, open.sd.gov, allows you to review state government spending, contracts, salaries of individual state employees, financial publications and reports, the state’s checkbook, budget, tax expenditures, and a variety of other financial information.
The website boardsandcommissions.sd.gov is the portal to the many boards and commissions in the state and the work they do. You can find who is appointed to a board or commission, the scope of the board, meeting agendas, and meeting archives. If you are interested in a particular board or commission, you can sign up for email updates for that board.
Last year legislators worked in a bipartisan effort to assure citizens that legislators – as well as state employees – are accountable to the public. We passed bills to increase government accountability, protect whistleblowers, and increase campaign finance reporting. We passed a bill to place a $100 limit on lobbyist gifts to legislators. To give you an idea of the gifts legislators receive…typical gifts include calendars, pens, note pads, key chains, and water bottles. As we look for additional ways to increase transparency in state government, I welcome your comments.