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Lawmakers to weigh asking voters to extend legislative terms

January 16, 2019

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota lawmakers are set to debate a measure introduced Wednesday that would ask voters to double legislators’ current two-year terms in office.

State senators and representatives would be able to serve two consecutive four-year terms under the proposed constitutional amendment. House Majority Leader Lee Qualm, a co-sponsor, said the change would strengthen the Legislature.

“When you have two-year terms, you run constantly,” Qualm said. “The first year is a lot of figuring out who your allies are, who you can work with, how you do things. The second year, you get some things done. Then you start all over again.”

But Republican Sen. Jim Bolin said he likely favors keeping the current system. Bolin said with a citizen Legislatur it’s good that voters can either “renew the contract or put somebody else in place” every two years.

Democratic leaders in the GOP-controlled Legislature have said they would consider the measure.

“It depends on the day whether I want to be here four years,” Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert said with a laugh last week. “I think that’s something to look at.”

The proposed amendment would maintain current term limits that restrict lawmakers to serving eight consecutive years in a chamber. The measure would go on the November 2020 ballot; if approved by voters, the changes would take effect in January 2023.

A similar proposal was easily defeated in a House committee during the 2018 legislative session. Opponents argued at the time that the current two-year cycle keeps lawmakers accountable.

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