Travel related bill sponsored by Watertown lawmakers defeated in SD House

February 2, 2023

PIERRE, S.D.–The House of Representatives shut down a Senate bill that would alter who approves legislative travel on the state’s dime.

Makenzie Huber of South Dakota Searchlight ( reports Senate Bill 68 sailed through the Senate with a unanimous vote last week, but was met with overwhelming opposition on the House floor, with 60 votes against and eight votes in favor.

The bill was prompted because of controversy surrounding legislators Spencer Gosch and Jamie Smith attending a December 2022 conference in Hawaii when they were not returning for the 2023 legislative session. Gosch lost a primary election in June 2022 and Smith lost the gubernatorial election against Gov. Kristi Noem.

The 12 South Dakota state lawmakers to attend the Hawaii conference racked up nearly $32,000 in expenses, with Gosch’s bill at $3,341.83 and Smith’s at $2,713.79.

House Speaker Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, and Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, were prime sponsors of the bill, which would require the legislature’s Executive Board to approve legislative trips.

Currently, the president pro tempore and the speaker of the House approve travel for members in their respective chambers, but Schoenbeck argued during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing that the system was open to abuse.

Rep. Liz May, R-Kyle, urged representatives to vote against the bill because of potential timeline complications for booking out-of-state travel and lodging, suggesting that such plans are made before primary or general elections. She questioned how the Legislature would handle such complications.

“I just don’t think legislation is necessary, and I don’t want to put it into statute,” May said. “What else are we going to put into statute? Leadership turns over. Let’s let our leadership handle this and not put this law on the books for somebody to deal with down the road.”