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SD Supreme Court hearing on legislative conflict

PIERRE, S.D. – The issue is simple: What is a legislative conflict of interest?

The answer, as evidenced by arguments from the South Dakota attorney general and legal counsels for the governor and the legislature, is
anything but simple.

Today (Monday), the South Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments on what a legislative conflict is. They also heard arguments on what the state constitution says a conflict is and how to resolve over one hundred years of S.D. Supreme Court decisions and attorney general opinions on the matter

Katie Hruska, counsel for Gov. Kristi Noem, says the governor is looking for clarity.

“We are looking for more specific guidance on what an indirect interest is,” she said.

However, Justice Mark Salter may have determined the real issue: Some legislators and state officials don’t like the strict interpretation of
what is a conflict.

“There is implicit in all the submissions that the state of the law is unsatisfactory in being clear and workable,” Salter said.

In the short term, what is at stake is Gov. Noem’s ability to appoint two legislators to vacant Rapid City districts who won’t later be found
to have conflicts.

In the longer term, the governor, legislators, and the attorney general want the court to issue an advisory opinion that clarifies not just what
a conflict is but also what a direct and indirect conflict is.

Several justices said previous decisions and the state constitution point out that legislative direct and indirect conflicts are still
conflicts.

However, Ron Parsons, attorney for the legislature, says that line could be more precise.

“The framers did not want this to be a guessing game,” Parsons argued. “No one wants to knowingly risk their livelihood to be on the wrong side of an unknowable line.”

Attorney General Marty Jackley suggested that there could be a point where an indirect conflict becomes too indirect because the conflict is
minimal. For example, he said, if a legislator owns one share of stock in a company that receives a state contract is that too indirect to be
meaningful.

The hearing lasted for over 70 minutes. The court will issue a written opinion later.

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