By now many people around the country are probably wishing they had read the fine print in their mortgage contracts, their credit card agreements, their brokerage accounts, insurance policies, and so forth.
But meanwhile, we in South Dakota are being urged by some television ads to read the fine print of initiated measures on the ballot when we vote Nov. 4.
When the South Dakota Constitution was written, it made provision for citizens to either initiate laws or to refer laws the Legislature passed to a vote of the people. In this respect, we are the proud inheritors of what I'd call Direct Democracy. So two years ago an anti-abortion law passed by the Legislature was referred to the people who voted it down.
This year we don't have a referendum, but we do have an initiated measure dealing with abortion as well as two others that are perhaps more obscure and complex but which also could have serious implications for how business and government will be conducted in South Dakota in the future. So here they are in numerical order.
Initiated Measure 9 calls itself “The South Dakota Small Investor Protection Act” and so far as I can tell it deals with “short selling” securities. This initiative apparently has its origins outside of South Dakota and is promoted by a group that is trying to get the issue on the ballot in several states. I haven't read the entire bill, but the proponents indicate it would “allow our courts to intervene when federal bureaucrats and New York courts don't.”
This is not persuasive to me and I guess I'd go with the opinion of the director of the South Dakota Division of Securities who says we should vote no.
Initiated Measure 10 is one that has generated a lot of TV ads about reading the fine print and it seems to be opposed by a lot of organizations and government entities who claim it is a “gag law” that takes a shotgun approach to what may or may not be a problem requiring something of a more specific and surgical nature. It says it wants to prohibit tax dollars from being used for lobbying and political campaigns. It's hard to argue with that but again, it seems complicated and diffuse and apparently was not generated by any specific problem known to exist in South Dakota.
Initiated Measure 11, which seeks to overturn the vote of 2006 that rejected a strict anti-abortion measure is, so far as I know, generated locally. However, the other day I did get a call from somebody in Virginia supporting this proposed law. Again, those who oppose this measure urge us to read the fine print. I think that's a good idea. Get the whole bill and read it.
Actually, I think a proposed law like this should also lead us to read the fine print or the bold print of the Constitution of the United States. It should lead us to think about why we have government, what we believe is the proper exercise of governmental regulation, and about when government should intervene in our private lives. Personally, I think the discussion about this proposed law should be less about whether it includes enough exceptions and more about what democracy is.
Some of the first colonists who came to America really thought about founding a theocracy and enforcing laws that conformed to their beliefs, but that soon gave way to the idea of freedom of conscience. We can all be grateful for that. I think the problem with Initiated Measure 11 is that seems to require us all to agree with the opinion and beliefs of those who are promoting it. I don't think that's a good idea in a democracy. In that respect, I don't think Initiated Measure 11 belongs on the ballot.
Reading the fine print is a very good thing to do in many areas of our lives and it's especially important when it comes to voting for new laws.
Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.