South Dakota AG impeachment petition to be sent to legislators this week

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — What’s said to be the first impeachment proceeding against a state official in South Dakota history is starting to take shape.

The petition seeking a special session of the Legislature will go out later this week, House Speaker Spencer Gosch said Wednesday.

The target is state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. The car he was driving hit and killed pedestrian Joe Boever on the night of Sept. 12, 2020.

Ravnsborg, a Republican, had his defense attorney plead no-contest for him to two traffic misdemeanors. Ravnsborg never appeared in court on the charges.

Just days before the pleas were entered, Ravnsborg was ticketed for driving 57 mph in a 35 mph zone in Pierre. He wasn’t carrying his driver’s license.

The petition calls for a special session on impeachment to start on Nov. 9.

The Legislature will already be at the Capitol for a special session that starts Nov. 8 on drawing legislative-election districts for the next 10 years.

For the Nov. 9 impeachment special session to occur, the petition needs support from at least 47 of the 70 House of Representatives members and at least 24 of the 35 Senate members.

Senator Lee Schoenbeck is his chamber’s top member and presides when Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden isn’t available. Schoenbeck has encouraged senators to agree to the impeachment special session.

Schoenbeck said Wednesday he doesn’t expect the Senate to spend much time on impeachment on Nov. 9 if there is a special session to consider impeachment. He said the Senate would gavel in, take care of some procedural issues and then recess. 

Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, wants Ravnsborg to resign or be impeached. After the pleas were accepted, she had the state Department of Public Safety turn over to Speaker Gosch the investigative file on Ravnsborg’s crash.

Gosch, the House presiding officer, hasn’t yet publicly said how he specifically would want the House to proceed. He also hasn’t yet outlined a timetable. He has mentioned a committee but hasn’t said what its role might be.

The South Dakota Constitution says that a majority of House members — 36 currently — is necessary for an official to be impeached.

The article on impeachment includes a provision that says, “No officer shall exercise the duties of his office after he shall have been impeached and before his acquittal.”

How a suspension would affect Ravnsborg’s $121,449.51 annual salary isn’t clear.

If the House votes to impeach, the Senate must conduct a trial. The impeachment article requires the impeached official to receive notice 20 days before the start of the trial. A two-thirds majority of senators is necessary to convict.

A conviction would remove the person from office and disqualify the person from holding any office of trust or profit in state government.

Under that schedule, and with the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays, a Senate trial might not start until after the Legislature returns Jan. 11 to start the 2022 regular session.

The state constitution also allows a governor to call both chambers, or one chamber, back for a special session. The governor however hasn’t taken that route for Ravnsborg, despite her calls for his ouster.

Gosch, House Republican leader Kent Peterson and House Democrat leader Jamie Smith issued a joint announcement on Gosch’s letterhead last week saying they would seek a special session on impeachment.

During the 2020 legislative session, Peterson and Smith supported a resolution of impeachment brought by Representative Will Mortenson, but Gosch successfully offered an amendment that delayed the consideration of impeachment until after Ravnsborg’s trial was done.

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