PIERRE - State legislative leaders said Friday they may subpoena the promoter of a controversial ballot initiative to force him to answer questions about it.
Senate Majority Leader Eric Bogue, R-Faith, and Senate Minority Leader Garry
Moore, D-Yankton, expressed "shock" when a supporter of the proposed Judicial
Accountability Initiative Law, or JAIL, read a written statement at a meeting of
Senate State Affairs Committee, then refused to answer questions posed by
The committee, which Bogue chairs, was considering a resolution in opposition to the JAIL initiative, which will appear as Amendment E on the November ballot. If approved by the voters, it would strip judges of immunity from lawsuits.
Most of the state Legislature's 105 members have signed on to the resolution in opposition to Amendment E, saying that the measure would extend to everyone from county commissioners to volunteers who serve on local boards.
They said the California-based JAIL movement chose South Dakota because it is easier to get initiatives on the ballot here.
Representatives of 19 organizations told committee members Friday that Amendment E would have far-reaching ramifications, citing things such as a negative impact on the state's economy and an inability to attract people to public service.
After that testimony, Bill Stegmeier of Tea, who led the South Dakota drive to get the measure on the ballot, read a five-page statement to the committee.
"Your accusation that the amendment will put all public servants at risk of being sued for doing nothing more than their jobs is ludicrous," Stegmeier said.
When he was asked after his testimony to respond to questions, Stegmeier said, "I respectfully decline to answer any questions. I do not feel I am prepared."
He said he would respond to written questions "at a later date."
"You were involved in putting this on the ballot," Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, said. "When do expect to be prepared to explain it?"
"At a later date," Stegmeier said.
"Before you decided to put the citizens of South Dakota through this, did it not occur to you to understand it and be ready to explain it?" Schoenbeck asked.
Stegmeier again declined to respond, saying that all of his comments were included in the statement he read to the committee.
Bogue then said that action would be delayed on the resolution opposing Amendment E until the committee considers its options.
Later, at separate press briefings, both Bogue and Moore said that may include a subpoena.
"We have had a shocking and unprecedented event where an individual appeared in front of a standing committee and refused to answer questions," Bogue said. "In my 10 years here, that has never happened."
He said the committee will decide whether to issue a subpoena.
Bogue said that appearing before a committee and refusing to answer questions is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail, a fine of $200, or both.
"This is something that is going to have a dramatic effect, whether you are a proponent or an opponent, on the constitution and procedures at every level of South Dakota government," Bogue said. "To have an individual who is a such a key component in putting this on the ballot read a statement and then claim to be unwilling and unable to answer questions, is appalling."
Moore said that during his 16 years as a legislator, "I have never seen anything similar to what happened in the State Affairs Committee today. … It is going to be interesting to see whether a sheriff knocks on the door and subpoenas someone to testify next week."
Moore said South Dakotans were "hoodwinked" when the initiative got on the ballot.
"I would be ashamed to let anybody know I was a part of that when they can't answer the questions," he said.
Contacted later, Stegmeier said the written statement covered what he intended to talk about.
"I did not care to debate five or six attorneys (on the committee) on the amendment itself," he said.
When told the committee may issue a subpoena, Stegmeier said, "That's fine. A subpoena will tell me what I need to be prepared for."
Contact Celeste Calvitto at 394-8438 or
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