PIERRE, S.D. -- South Dakota legislators reconvened Friday, March 29, to approve Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's changes to an already-passed bill after hours of closed-door meetings and mulling over questions of constitutionality and legislative procedure.
By issuing what is called a style and form veto, Noem on Wednesday returned Senate Bill 176 to the Legislature, requesting that they change which fiscal year the bill goes into effect. The final version of the bill passed on March 12 appropriated the funds out of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, which Noem attributed to a drafting error. Her intent was for the one-time funds to come out of FY 2019's budget.
SB 176 appropriates $1 million in one-time funds toward pheasant habitat conservation. Noem first proposed the program, dubbed the Second Century Habitat Fund, in her January State of the State address.
On Friday, the Legislature reconvened for so-called Veto Day, when legislators have an opportunity to reconsider executive vetoes from the 2019 session. The Senate approved the changes to SB 176 by a 24-7 vote, and the House approved them by a 41-25 vote.
Some legislators called into question the constitutionality of the bill's process. They said to change which fiscal year spending occurs is a more substantive change than is justifiable by a style and form veto, and voting in favor of the change could set a dangerous precedent.
Rep. Ryan Cwach, D-Yankton, said Friday's vote wasn't a question of whether legislators support pheasant habitat conservation, or if they agree with Noem: "It’s about the meaning of our state constitution."
"Even though we are not wearing robes, we are interpreting law and setting precedent -- in this case, our most important law, the Constitution," he said.
Proponents of the change said that the change was not substantive because it reflected the original intent of the bill to appropriate the funds in 2019, which lawmakers were aware of when they passed it.
"This again goes back to the very intent of the bills as they were presented to the Legislature and as they were deliberated on throughout the process," Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, said. "There isn't one person here that thought this expenditure was supposed to take place in 2020."