National Insurer Group Opposes S.D. Judicial Ballot Initiative

March 20, 2006

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies is saying it plans to work with a broad-based coalition in South Dakota to defeat a statewide judicial ballot initiative on the November ballot that would allow citizens to bring a lawsuit against judges and those with public decision making power.

In its written statement NAMIC explained that “Amendment E” would amend the South Dakota constitution to allow for citizens to “try” judges and others who sit on public policymaking boards in the aftermath of unpopular decisions. A civilian jury would be empowered to impose a sentence after the “trial.” A sentence could result in judges being relieved of their duties and being forced to forfeit their pensions-and civil and criminal liability placed upon such persons as school board members, parole board members, and similar public bodies.

NAMIC Senior Vice President Roger H. Schmelzer said NAMIC will be an active participant in the “No on Amendment E” grassroots coalition.

“If successful, this initiative would seriously undermine not only South Dakota’s state judicial system, but also any citizen board with public decision making power,” Schmelzer said. “Given that property/casualty insurance is state regulated and that state tort law is critical to the way our businesses are run, we are obliged to resist vigorously any attempt to introduce unpredictability to state legal systems.”

Schmelzer added that stopping the South Dakota effort is an essential step in discouraging similar initiatives in other states that permit citizens to amend their constitutions by direct election.

“We encourage our more than 1,400 member companies to consider their own involvement and financial support in helping to defeat the South Dakota ballot initiative because of the impact such a result will have nationally,” Schmelzer said.

Amendment E was certified by the South Dakota Secretary of State in the fall of 2005 after Ronald Branson, a California minister, succeeded in getting 46,800 South Dakotans to sign petitions for his Judicial Accountability Initiative Law (J.A.I.L.).

In February, 92 of 105 lawmakers co-sponsored and passed House Resolution 1004, which urges South Dakota residents to reject the J.A.I.L. amendment on election day.

The “No on Amendment E” coalition is a nonpartisan effort of the state’s top political, business, labor, law enforcement, medical and agricultural leaders.

“These unprecedented actions, both by the members of the legislature and other South Dakota entities, are emblematic of the serious opposition to Amendment E becoming part of the state’s constitution,” Schmelzer said.

NAMIC has produced an Issue Brief on the J.A.I.L. ballot initiative that includes more specifics about Amendment E, its organizers and how the initiative came to be on the South Dakota ballot. The Issue Brief can be read on NAMIC’s website, NAMIC Online at .

Source: National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies

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