South Dakota House Speaker plans delay in AG impeachment

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PIERRE, S.D. — Top South Dakota lawmakers announced a proposal on Tuesday to delay evaluating whether the state's attorney general should be impeached until the conclusion of the criminal case against him for hitting and killing a man with his car.

House Speaker Spencer Gosch, a Republican, released a plan he will present to a House committee on Wednesday, arguing that a delay was necessary in light of a judge's order last week that halted Gov. Kristi Noem and government officials from releasing evidence in the investigation. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg — also a Republican — is facing three misdemeanour charges for striking and killing a man walking on the shoulder of a highway late on Sept. 12.

Ravnsborg initially told authorities that he thought he had struck a deer or another large animal and said he searched the unlit area with a cellphone flashlight. He said he didn’t realize he had killed a man until the next day when he returned to the accident scene.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers had filed articles of impeachment against the state's top law enforcement officer last week, just hours after Noem had called for Ravnsborg to resign. The Republican governor also made the extraordinary move of releasing videos of interviews Ravnsborg had with criminal investigators. But her administration was later forced to remove the videos by a judge in the county where the criminal case against Ravnsborg is proceeding.

“Our proceedings need to be fair and transparent," Gosch said in a statement. "In light of the recent court order issued by the Honorable John Brown, we have some concerns on what our abilities are in a public proceeding.”

Gosch's proposal amounted to a step back from the impeachment proceedings after the governor and some lawmakers had used nearly every available means to get Ravnsborg to resign last week.

The lawmaker said he would propose removing the articles of impeachment from the legislative resolution and replacing them with a statement saying that after Ravnsborg's criminal trial, the House “may evaluate whether articles of impeachment ... are necessary and proceed accordingly.”

Both House Republican Leader, Kent Peterson, and Democratic Leader, Jamie Smith, said they agreed with the delay.

A hearing date for Ravnsborg's criminal case has not been set.

Gosch said it would also require a special session of the Legislature to reconvene for impeachment, which would require support from two-thirds of both chambers. If the House decided to proceed with the impeachment, it would take a simple majority to advance the impeachment charges to the Senate. There, it would require two-thirds of senators to convict and remove him from office.

Noem would get to appoint a replacement if Ravnsborg leaves or is removed from office.

Stephen Groves, The Associated Press