South Dakota lawmakers divided over payment for record-breaking lawsuit

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SIOUX FALLS, SD (AP) – Leading South Dakota lawmakers argue over whether taxpayers should pay for the Speaker’s legal defense as he faces legal action for refusing to disclose the names of House legislators. who supported a special session this year.

Senator Lee Schoenbeck – who as a pro tempore oversees the conduct of the Senate – asserted in an email to lawmakers last week that House Speaker Spencer Gosch, another Republican, should personally foot the legal bill to avoid the expense taxpayers. Gosch responded that South Dakota law calls for the attorney general to come forward if the state Supreme Court reviews the lawsuit.

The House is set to meet next month in a special legislative session to decide whether to move forward with the impeachment of Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for his conduct following an accident that killed a pedestrian last year. Looking ahead, Gosch declined to release the names of lawmakers who requested the session. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the South Dakota Newspaper Association sued Gosch, alleging he violated open archives laws. Gosch argued that the list of lawmakers is exempt from public disclosure.

Schoenbeck, who had released the names of Senators who applied to attend the session, emailed fellow lawmakers last week requesting a meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s executive committee if Gosch intended to involve the Legislative Assembly in the legal battle.

“There is no legal basis for the president’s actions and I will not support any spending of taxpayer funds for this behavior,” he wrote in the email obtained by The Associated Press.

Gosch responded by saying that he was acting in his official capacity as president when he made the decision not to release the names and that he expected the Attorney General to represent him if the Supreme Court of the State is reviewing the lawsuit. He added that a meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s Executive Council “would not be appropriate at this time” as the court has not yet indicated whether it will hear the trial.

Gosch said on Monday that Schoenbech “is simply wrong about everything” in this matter.

Rep. Steve Haugaard, the previous speaker, was represented by the attorney general’s office when he was prosecuted in 2019 for excluding a lobbyist from the chamber floor.. However, Haugaard had to personally pay the lobbyist’s legal fees after the two reached a settlement agreement.

Meanwhile, media are asking the Supreme Court to order the legislature to suspend plans for the special session, which is scheduled for November 9, until the dispute is resolved.


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