House lawmakers soundly reject proposal to change “lame duck” travel rules

The House easily killed a bill that would have reformed the policy regarding out of state travel for outgoing lawmakers.
South Dakota House lawmakers resoundingly rejected a proposal to modify the rules regarding out...
South Dakota House lawmakers resoundingly rejected a proposal to modify the rules regarding out of state travel for outgoing lawmakers.(Joe Sneve/The Dakota Scout)
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 4:46 PM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PIERRE, S.D. - South Dakota State House lawmakers soundly rejected a bill that would have put guardrails in place to limit out of state travel for “lame duck” lawmakers.

The bill, SB 68, was overwhelmingly rejected by the body by a vote of 60 to 8, after having unanimously passed the Senate in January.

“It is a simple bill, it offers more eyes to look at travel when a lame duck member is traveling out of state,” said Speaker of the House Hugh Bartels (R-Watertown).

Bartels, and Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown), were the sole sponsors of the bill.

It came as a direct response to former Speaker of the House Spencer Gosch, and former Democrat lawmaker Jamie Smith traveling to Hawaii for a legislative conference in December. The two outgoing lawmakers went on the trip just weeks before their official term in office ended.

All together, 12 lawmakers attended the “Council of State Governments” conference in Hawaii, racking up over $32k in expenses for taxpayers.

SB 68 would have allowed the Executive Board to review potential out of state travel for outgoing lawmakers. Current policy leaves out of state travel decisions up to the President Pro Tempore and Speaker of the House, each handling the decisions in their respective chambers.

“There are several times when it would be approved by the Executive Board,” Bartels explained. “When someone was doing a presentation at NCSL, or traveling to Fargo as a chair, or Topeka, Kansas to present. If you were a committee chair or a president of an organization, we would approve that travel.”

But Rep. Liz May (R-Kyle) raised specific concerns about putting what could be a simple, legislative rule change into statute.

“We’ve always handled all of this through the rules process, and that is where I think it should continue to be, is in the rules process,” May said, speaking in opposition of the bill. “We change leadership here all the time.”

May also argued that there are quirks that would come about with the law.

Both Gosch and Smith argued that they had booked their trips well before they lost their respective elections in 2022.

They’ve also suggested that the issue has become a political football.

“If a lawmaker is beat in the primary, and they already have their tickets booked, how do we handle that?” May asked. “I think this needs to stay in house, I think we have a good procedure the way that we handle it.”

The Executive Board of the state legislature, made up of leadership from each chamber, could change the rules on the matter as soon as the next time they meet. However, they currently do not have any future meetings scheduled.

Correction: A previous version of this article previously mistook the National Conference of State Legislatures for the Council of State Governments.