South Dakota governor asks state Supreme Court about conflict of interest after lawmaker resigns

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has requested guidance from the state’s Supreme Court about conflict-of-interest rules for lawmakers, several weeks after a South Dakota state lawmaker resigned and agreed to repay $500,000 in federal COVID-19 relief that she received for her day care business.

Jessica Castleberry was a state senator when she received the COVID-19 stimulus funding. Doing so violated a state Supreme Court advisory warning state lawmakers that it is unconstitutional for them to accept federal pandemic funding.

Noem, Attorney General Marty Jackley and two Republican lawmakers have sent letters to the court seeking clarity on what else is illegal, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported Thursday.

According to the state Constitution, lawmakers are banned from entering into state contracts “directly or indirectly” during their term and for a year after they finish serving in office.

In her letter, Noem raised specific questions about indirect contracts: Can lawmakers or their spouses be employed by school districts or counties? Can their businesses subcontract with the state for goods and services? And can they receive foster care reimbursements?

Majority Leader Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, a Republican of Watertown, said in his letter that “a literal reading of the ‘indirectly’ language ... would exclude a very large portion of South Dakota’s population," according to the Argus Leader.

The letters also said lawmakers continuously vote on spending packages that fund schools and counties where the lawmakers or their spouses work.

Noem wrote that she is seeking guidance as soon as possible because she still needs to appoint someone to Castleberry's open seat before the Legislature convenes in January.

Schoenbeck added that, depending on the court’s ruling, a number of lawmakers may need to resign or pay the state back for services received.