PIERRE — Vote trading and the use of ambiguous shell bills are within the confines of South Dakota law, Attorney General Marty Jackley wrote in an opinion Monday.

While the practices have generated concern for a dozen state legislators, neither directly violates the law or the state’s constitution as long as there is no violence or coercion used in trading a vote, Jackley said.

The opinion came after a group of legislators, headed by Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, drafted a letter to Jackley expressing concern about the use of the bills that are often extensively amended late in the legislative session and agreements between legislators to vote for one of the bills if another legislator would support the other’s bill.

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Vote trading, Jackley said in his opinion, is a “common legislative practice that is an established landmark in South Dakota’s legislative landscape.” And vehicle bills are allowed as long as they have an enacting clause and focus only on one subject.

The Republican also noted that lawmakers had the power to outlaw either practice through rule change or legislation.



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The presence of shell bills in the Statehouse is not a new phenomenon. Lawmakers for years have drafted purposefully generic measures with titles like “enhance South Dakota” or “accommodate legislation relating to education in South Dakota” to provide backups in case proposals fail or something gets missed between the bill filing deadline and the end of session.

Opponents, like Nelson, said they were frustrated by the assessment as they’d been told previously that the practice of vote-trading is illegal.

“I’m totally astonished that our attorney general would condone this process,” Nelson said. “It is unethical on its face.”

Nelson said he planned to bring a rule change restricting the practice.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call (605) 370-2493 or email