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KATIE ZERR: Legislative process must be allowed to work

When those elected to make the laws have little knowledge or regard for the process, and disregard those who do, are we not defeating the purpose of a government by the people?
Has South Dakota become a state whose legislators decide their personal agendas are more important than the law?
Something happened this week that must make us sit up and take notice at what is happening, not only in our nation, but in our state capital as well.
South Dakota elects citizen representation. It is a good system but has flaws. We elect our friends and neighbors to part-time jobs of making laws. Our legislators, for the most part are individuals who want to serve their state. They want to serve their neighbors and do what is right for the majority of South Dakotans.
But just like in nearly every aspect of our lives, there are those who might not belong. Some bring personal agendas that are pushed to the front burner and the rest of the work be damned.
This has become more and more evident in the past couple of years. We know that some good legislators have left government because the tone in Pierre has become toxic and makes the work environment near impossible.
Our state government is based on the federal concept of three branches; executive, judicial and legislative. In our structure, our legislators depend on the Legislative Research Council (LRC) for advice on the legality of their proposals.
The mission of the LRC is to provide to the members of the legislature legal analysis, fiscal analysis, and advice in addition to research, drafting, and budget services in a professional, confidential, and nonpartisan manner.
What has happened in Pierre in recent years came to a head this week as Wenzel Cummings, the senior legislative lawyer for the LRC, tendered his resignation and made a statement before the Legislature’s Executive Board.
Cummings told the board on Monday that he is quitting because of legislators’ mistreatment of LRC staff. Legislators publicly criticize LRC staff and stick the nonpartisan LRC in the middle of partisan battles at the capitol, he said. The 2020 legislative session particularly “left something of a very bad taste in my mouth,” Cummings told them.
He told the board the LRC job is to answer the questions that they are asked and they are punished because of the answers.
LRC staff’s role is to provide objective information and analysis to legislators, Cummings explained. LRC staffers aren’t politicians or policy makers, nor should they be stuck in the middle of debates in the legislative chambers or between the governor and Legislature, Cummings told the board.
He said that at the end of the day, the treatment of the staff wasn’t worth his staying at his job. Cummings said others will leave the LRC if this continues. When personal agendas override common sense and force good people out of the job, is it not interrupting the orderly process of the law?
What is happening in our nation is beginning to show more and more in South Dakota. When we lose good voices because they are drowned out by radicals from the right and left, the people of the state suffer.
Our form of government depends on the exchange of ideas. When certain forces try to tap down any language that doesn’t line with their ideals, it destroys the process of government by the people.
Cummings’ warning hit home with some, but will it make a difference to legislators or strengthen their resolve?
For several years, legislation introduced by some has taken up precious time and energy to either push that legislation or to repair the damage it does to the reputation of our state and its people.
If there is no one to present the legality of proposed legislation, how much time will be left for the legislative work?
It will cost the State of South Dakota, the people of the state and our government. Legislation that can and will be challenged in court takes up valuable time in our legislature and ends up clogging the courts.
Electing people whose egos and personal views that are more important than what is best for the majority of the people of our state is counter-productive.
Is it worth it?