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State senate passes bill which would ban a lawmakers spouse from lobbying

(South Dakota Broadcasters Association) The state Senate passed a bill this afternoon (Tuesday) that bars a legislator’s spouse from lobbying.

The vote was 22 to 13 in the 35-member chamber.

Bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Michael Rohl from Aberdeen, said the legislator-spouse relationship could be self-serving, as legislators cannot themselves vote for bills that would directly benefit them.

On the other hand, their spouse could influence others to do so.

“This is a dangerous loophole,” Sen. Rohl said. “We need to show that Pierre is capable of monitoring ourselves.”

He said it was also confusing to legislative staff, interns, and pages when they should treat the lobbyist-spouse as a lobbyist or as the legislator’s marriage partner.

Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller from Rapid City said the bill was aimed at her and her husband, Mike Mueller.

Mike Mueller is an unpaid lobbyist for South Dakota Citizens for Liberty.

Lobbyist forms currently do not make a distinction between paid and volunteer lobbyists.

It asks all lobbyists who “employs” them. 

According to the S.D. Secretary of State’s website on applying to be a lobbyist:

“Any person acting as a lobbyist to seek the introduction of legislation or to promote, oppose, or influence in any manner the passage by the Legislature of any legislation affecting the special interests of any agency, individual, association, or business shall register the name of the person so employed or agreed to be employed, with the Secretary of State. (SDCL 2-12-1)”

There was no attempt on the floor to amend the bill to carve out an exception for unpaid lobbyists.

Sen. Frye-Mueller asked why the spouses of legislators who work in the judicial or executive branches also are not similarly barred.

She said there was a “certain agenda” behind the bill regarding her and her husband.

Earlier in the legislative session, Sen. Frye-Mueller and Mike Mueller were present during a conversation with a Legislative Research Council staffer that the employee reported as harassing and improper.

Republican leaders suspended Sen. Frye-Mueller after the complaint; a special committee heard testimony; the Senate reinstated her but censured her and forbade her from working with legislative staff unless she went through the head of the LRC. 

SB 197 now goes to a House committee.

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In Touch 6/14/24

Eric Kline with Northern State joins us to give us an update on NSU…