Bill to ban South Dakota lawmakers' spouses from being private lobbyists fails

The S.D. House of Representatives gathers on the first day of legislative session on Tuesday, January 10, 2023, at the South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre.

PIERRE — A bill to ban lawmakers' spouses from being paid private lobbyists failed in the House 24-44 Monday morning.

The bill, SB197, was meant to prevent lawmakers from receiving either direct or indirect financial benefits from their spouse's job, said Rep. Linda Duba, D-Sioux Falls. The main reasoning behind this was most of the time, spouses share bank accounts and it can create a conflict of interest.

It was also meant to clear up confusion between Legislative Research Counsel staff and the sergeant at arms on the Senate and House floors.

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"Spouses have the ability to come down on the floor, they can be in legislative areas that other people cannot be," Duba said.

Opponents of the bill said it pointed to one member of the Senate, Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, and her husband, Mike Mueller, an unpaid registered lobbyist for Citizens for Liberty.

Frye-Mueller was temporarily suspended and censored for harassment-like comments she made to a legislative staffer in late January.

At the time the comments were made, the staffer reported Mueller was in the room to to discuss a draft bill, according to the complaint released at the time of a disciplinary committee's investigation into the matter.

Frye-Mueller was reinstated and censured by the Senate on Feb. 1, and SB 197 was introduced the same day, but it's unclear if the timing is directly related.

"The Senate trying to drag their dirty laundry over into this house," Rep. Liz May, R-Kyle, said.

May unsuccessfully brought an amendment that would've banned state employees spouses from private lobbying.

Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, argued the bill didn't differentiate between when a lobbyist is unpaid and volunteering their time versus when a lobbyist is paid.

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"I think we could run into some legal issues by the passage of this bill," he said, referencing a court case from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the definitions of a private and volunteer lobbyist.

Before the final vote was cast, Duba said the bill wasn't meant to target just Frye-Mueller and her husband.

"This is my fifth year in the house," she said. "This has happened twice."

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Bill to ban SD lawmakers' spouses from being private lobbyists fails