Medicaid Expansion Ballot Campaigns Near Signature Threshold

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A pair of campaigns to expand Medicaid in South Dakota are nearing enough voter petitions to be placed on the ballot next year, organizers said Thursday.

One campaign, sponsored by former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, has collected an estimated 36,000 signed petitions and is attempting to reach 45,000 by a Nov. 8 deadline. Meanwhile, a separate campaign, backed by the state's major health care systems and medical organizations, has surpassed the roughly 34,000 signature minimum and plans to turn in about 50,000 signatures, according to Zach Marcus, a spokesman for the campaign.

The secretary of state will assess whether the signatures come from South Dakota voters and usually dismisses some. If enough signatures are gathered, the measures would appear on the November 2022 ballot.

Both campaigns propose to voters an amendment to the state constitution to require Medicaid health insurance be made available to people who live below 133% of the federal poverty level, which is currently about $17,000 for an individual or $35,000 for a family of four. The rival initiatives propose different timelines for implementation. If both pass, the one with the higher vote count would be implemented.

The efforts have prompted a political tussle between the Legislature and groups looking to enact laws that have little chance in the Republican-dominated Statehouse.

The Legislature this year proposed a constitutional amendment that would add a 60% vote threshold to ballot measures that raise taxes or spend public funds. That constitutional amendment must be approved by voters. Lawmakers placed it on next year's primary election ballot so that it could apply to ballot initiatives that appear on the November ballot.

Republican lawmakers have argued the higher vote threshold would put safeguards on government spending and is similar to supermajority requirements legislators face to raise taxes or spend money.

But Weiland described the proposal and other recent actions aimed at ballot initiatives as an attack on a form of direct democracy.

“Our state motto is, ‘Under God the People Rule’ — the Legislature has turned that into a joke," he said.

Weiland's group, Dakotans for Health, has teamed up with two other ballot initiative campaigns to push back on the Legislature. The campaigns, which include groups pushing for recreational marijuana legalization and an independent redistricting commission, plan to gather Sunday afternoon in Sioux Falls.

Besides pressing for more signatures, the groups are kicking off an effort to oppose the Legislature's 60% vote threshold proposal.