Special Legislative Sessions in South Dakota

Photo Oct 14, 1 10 51 PM

The South Dakota State Legislature has met in special session thirty times. Twenty-six times, the special session was called by the Governor.  A 1990 constitutional amendment also allows the State Legislature to call itself into special session; this was done for a special session for redistricting in 2001, 2011, and 2021, and for a special session in 2021 to consider impeachment articles against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

Prior to 1963, the State Legislature only met every other year, in the odd-numbered years following a general election.  Particularly during the activist Progressive era, this led to a few special “general sessions” – sessions called in the off-year to handle numerous legislative topics. Since a 1972 constitutional amendment, the governor has had the power to restrict a special session to a certain “purpose,” effectively limiting the session to a particular topic or topics.

Here is a list of the past special sessions, with a brief description of the topics covered:

October 15-17, 1889 – Just days prior to South Dakota statehood on November 2, 1889, the first State Legislature met in special session to organize and elect officers.

February 8-11, 1916 – Gov. Frank Byrne called a special session to pass an amended primary election law, and to propose a constitutional amendment relating to state rural credit loans, a state coal mine, and state road construction.

Peter Norbeck

March 18-23, 1918 – Gov. Peter Norbeck called a general session amidst U.S. entry into World War I.  Legislators ratified the federal 18th Amendment enacting the prohibition of alcohol, provided for women’s suffrage and for voting by soldiers deployed overseas, abolished the right of resident aliens to vote in state elections, banned the teaching of foreign languages in public schools (an anti-German measure), and passed a constitutional amendment to fix defects in previous state-owned enterprise amendments.

December 2-4, 1919 – Gov. Norbeck called a special session to ratify the federal 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women’s suffrage.

June 21, 1920 – Gov. Norbeck called another general session to increase state spending and consider his proposals for state-owned enterprises.

June 22 – July 1, 1927 – Gov. W. J. Bulow, a Democrat, had vetoed the Republican legislature’s budget, which he believed overspent and was not properly balanced.  The State Legislature failed to pass a budget before it adjourned, and challenged Bulow’s right to veto the General Appropriations Act.  After the Supreme Court upheld Bulow’s veto, he called the legislature back into session to pass a state budget, successfully insisting on spending cuts.

July 31 – August 5, 1933 – With the federal repeal of the prohibition of alcohol, Gov. Tom Berry called a special session to legalize 3.2 beer and to tax its sale as a new revenue source during the depths of the Great Depression.

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Tom Berry

December 21-24, 1936 – Gov. Berry, a lame duck who had been defeated by Leslie Jensen in the November 1936 general election, called a special session to enact state legislation related to the implementation of the federal Social Security Act.

The session was overshadowed by U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck’s death on December 20, and by speculation about how Berry would fill Norbeck’s seat.  Berry was widely known to have ambitions to serve in the U.S. Senate himself, and hoped to resign as Governor so that Lt. Governor Robert Peterson could succeed Berry as Governor and then appoint Berry to the Senate.  The plan was derailed, however, when Peterson was arrested for embezzling from his Centerville bank.  Instead, Berry appointed Herbert Hitchcock, a 69-year old former state senator, with the understanding that Hitchcock would step aside in Berry’s favor at the next election.  Hitchcock ran for reelection in 1938, however, and Berry had to run in the Democratic primary against his own appointee.  Although Berry defeated Hitchcock, he lost the general election to Yankton businessman Chan Gurney, a Republican.

June 10-12, 1944 – Gov. M. Q. Sharpe called a special session during World War II to enact legislation allowing deployed soldiers to vote in the 1944 election.

February 6-16, 1950 – Gov. George T. Mickelson called a special session to create public power districts and to authorize additional funds for highway construction.

May 18, 1981 – After 31 years with out a special session, Gov. Bill Janklow called three.  The first authorized a state subsidy for the first year of operations of the new state-owned rail lines.

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Bill Janklow

September 23-24, 1981 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to approve his plan to sell Missouri River water to Energy Transportation Systems Inc. (ETSI), to be used in a coal slurry pipeline from Wyoming.  The pipeline was ultimately never built, but the state received over $5 million in payments before it was canceled.

May 2-3, 1984 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to abolish the state’s nine water conservancy subdistricts and replace them with six water development districts.  The State Legislature had rejected a similar plan during the 1984 legislative session, but adopted the plan in the special session.

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George S. Mickelson

July 16, 1987 – Gov. George S. Mickelson called a special session to finalize South Dakota’s bid to host the Superconducting Super Collider, a massive proposed particle accelerator complex.  The project was ultimately awarded to Texas but was cancelled in 1993.

October 3, 1991 – Gov. Mickelson called a special session to allow the state legislature to pass a redistricting plan in response to the 1990 census.  This was the first time that a special session was called to pass a redistricting plan.

November 26, 1991 – After a few errors were discovered in the redistricting plan passed by the October 3 special session, Gov. Mickelson called a brief special session in conjunction with the Governor’s Budget Address to fix the errors.

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Walter Dale Miller

May 25, 1993 – Gov. Walter Dale Miller called a special session in the wake of the death of Gov. Mickelson in the state plane crash.  The State Legislature unanimously confirmed Miller’s appointment of Sioux Falls businessman Steve Kirby as lieutenant governor and appropriated funds for a new state airplane and for construction of the Fighting Stallions Memorial.  Miller also used the special session to request funds for prison security in the wake of a riot at the state penetentiary.

July 11-12, 1994 – In response to a Supreme Court ruling that held video lottery to be unconstitutional, Gov. Miller called a special session to place a constitutional amendment on the 1994 general election ballot authorizing video lottery.

September 9, 1994 – Gov. Miller called another special session to authorize budget cuts and the use of reserve funds, due to the loss of video lottery revenue.  Legislators rejected a proposal from Miller for a temporary one-cent sales tax to help address the shortfall. The budget adjustments had not been made at the July special session because a pending appeal sought to allow video lottery until the election, but by September the Supreme Court had rejected that appeal.

April 14, 1997 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to impose a temporary gasoline tax to fund emergency road repairs as a consequence of massive flooding in northeastern South Dakota.

December 28-29, 2000 – Gov. Janklow called a special session to authorize the sale of the state cement plant and to create a trust fund with the proceeds of the sale.

October 23-24, 2001 – The State Legislature called itself into special session to allow for legislative redistricting. The voters had approved a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to call itself into special session by a petition of two-thirds of the members of each house; this was the first time that mechanism was used.

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Mike Rounds

June 26-27, 2003 – Gov. Mike Rounds called a special session to create a health insurance high risk pool.  The risk pool replaced an earlier system called “guaranteed issue,” whereby health insurance companies were each required to accept a share of high-risk insureds.  Several health insurance providers had left the South Dakota market rather than continue to accept high-risk insureds, and the new risk pool allowed more health insurers to operate in South Dakota.

October 14, 2005 – Gov. Rounds called a special session to appropriate $19 million to the Science and Technology Authority for construction of a laboratory facility at the former Homestake Mine in Lead.

At the request of Senate leaders, Governor Rounds had also called a special session of the Senate for November 27, 2006 to consider allegations concerning the conduct of State Senator Dan Sutton. Sutton, who in the meantime had won reelection in November 2006, resigned his senate seat for the lame duck period of late 2006. This made the special session moot, and Governor Rounds canceled the special session. Senators ultimately dealt with the Sutton matter during the regular legislative session in 2007.

October 24, 2011 – The State Legislature called itself into special session to allow for legislative redistricting.

June 12, 2017 – Gov. Daugaard called a special session to consider recommendations from an interim legislative committee on the authorization of recreational uses of non-meandered waters. The longstanding issue gained urgency after a Supreme Court opinion prohibited state game, fish, and parks officials from facilitating access to these waters. Legislators accepted the interim committee’s “Open Waters Compromise” legislation, subject to a one-year sunset clause. The sunset was subsequently removed by the 2018 Legislature.

Dennis Daugaard

September 12, 2018 – Gov. Daugaard called a special session to consider legislation on two topics. First, the session considered legislation to expedite the state’s implementation of sales tax on remote and online purchases. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled for the state in South Dakota v. Wayfair, overturning the “physical presence rule” and allowing the state to tax online purchases delivered to South Dakota. Legislators passed two bills to allow the state to enforce a sales tax requirement and to create a new sales tax license for marketplace websites that list products from multiple sellers. Second, legislators also passed an unrelated proposal from the Governor to clarify the statute that sets the dates of inaugurations, so that the new governor could be sworn in as planned on January 5, 2019.

Daugaard had in fact called another special session, to be held on June 22, 2013, to appropriate $10 million to complete construction of a new veterans’ home in Hot Springs.  The special session was canceled after the federal Veterans Administration gave the state more time to use federal funding, which allowed for the project design to be modified in a way that reduced costs.  

October 5, 2020 – Gov. Kristi Noem called for a special session to consider legislation relating to the expenditure of federal relief funds, which have been allocated to states as they manage the Covid-19 pandemic. The Legislature approved additional federal expenditure authority and passed a resolution outlining a plan for use of the funds.

November 8-9, 2021 – The State Legislature called itself into special session to allow for legislative redistricting.

November 9, 2021; April 26, 2022; June 21-22, 2022 – The State Legislature called itself into special session to consider impeachment articles against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. This is the first time in South Dakota history that the State Legislature has considered impeachment of a state official. Unusually, this special session was called during the previous special session, marking the first time that two legislative sessions have run concurrently, and it also ran concurrently with the 2022 legislative session. On April 12, 2022, the House reconvened in special session and passed articles of impeachment against Ravnsborg. The State Senate held its trial on June 21-22, 2022, convicting Ravnsborg and removing him from office.

(Since initial publication, this post has been updated to reflect subsequent special sessions in 2018, 2020, and 2021.)