Dakotans for Health: court’s petition circulation ruling ‘a win for direct democracy’

Published: Jun. 14, 2023 at 9:12 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - On May 10, the healthcare advocacy group Dakotans For Health sued Minnehaha County officials, looking to stop the county from enforcing a policy of prohibiting petition circulations near county buildings.

A federal district court has ruled against Minnehaha County’s policy change. Judge Roberto Lange issued a preliminary injunction to prevent the county from enforcing “designated areas” for petition circulation, something Rick Weiland of Dakotans for Health calls a “win for direct democracy.”

Dakotans for Health commonly uses petition signatures to get important issues on the ballot for voters. The group had a temporary restraining order that allowed them to continue to collect signatures while they moved forward with the lawsuit.

Weiland said that they found out about the ruling Tuesday night and were very pleased with the outcome.

“We felt pretty good after the hearing that we were on solid ground to challenge the county,” Weiland said. “What they proposed was essentially restricting free speech in 99.3% of the area down there by the admin building and the courthouse.”

South Dakota was the first state to adopt initiated laws and referendums. One example Weiland gave of the process of initiating measures that were successful was the 2014 minimum wage increase. There are 26 total states that have initiative and/or veto referendum processes.

Dakotans for Health viewed the county’s policy change as an attack on direct democracy and ultimately an attack on the will of the people.

“There are people in the legislature who don’t even believe in this process and they say it publicly that they are the ones that are getting elected, they are the ones that have all the information, and make better decisions. Time and time again, the voters say ‘You got that wrong.’ The motto in South Dakota is ‘Under God, the people rule,’” Weiland explained.

Weiland says that there are constant attacks on democratic processes, but that they will continue to fight because it’s “a fight worth having”.

“I have a lot of confidence in the American people and South Dakotans to do the right thing,” said Weiland.

Judge Lange’s ruling does still allow the county to enforce the portion of the policy that would allow them to regulate if the conduct of a petition circulator to not “obstruct individuals as they enter and exit the building” and to act in a “polite, courteous and professional manner.”

“Signature collection has been going on down there for fifty years. That’s the place you go,” Weiland explained.

The injunction is temporary, so the future of this issue is unknown. Minnehaha County Commission Administrative Officer Tom Greco issued the following statement: “The commission is in the process of reviewing the court’s opinion and will work with the auditor’s staff to ensure that the judge’s ruling is followed.”

“The county’s got to make some decisions. They have an option to appeal to the eighth circuit, they have an option to go to trial based on this temporary injunction, ultimately if they choose not to do either, then this moves forward without any challenges,” Weiland said.

Dakotans for Health is currently focused on an effort to get enough signatures to put a repeal of South Dakota’s Roe V. Wade trigger law and an elimination of the sales tax on groceries on the ballot for the next election.

In a poll of 500 registered voters done by South Dakota News Watch, 65% said they support “having a statewide referendum to determine South Dakota’s laws regarding reproductive rights.”