Gov signs 3 open government billsTask force leader says legislators could eventually OK other 5 measures.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE — The South Dakota Legislature approved only three of eight suggestions by a task force that sought ways to make state and local government more open, but the head of the task force said Tuesday that lawmakers might eventually embrace some of the defeated measures.
“Raising these issues and asking people to think about them could lead to changes in another couple years. Keeping these issues at the front of the minds of policymakers can only be good going forward,” said Tony Venhuizen, chairman of the task force and communications director for Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
The task force was appointed by Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley to propose changes in laws dealing with open meetings and the availability of government documents.
Daugaard on Tuesday signed into law the three open-government measures passed by this year’s Legislature.
One new law requires government agencies to consider the ease and affordability of public access to information when they set up electronic record-keeping systems. Those agencies also will have to tell people what information they hold to help people understand what they can request.
Another law clarifies that public documents do not become confidential just because officials use them to make decisions. Documents or communications used in the process of making decisions are otherwise exempt from public disclosure.
The third new law does not open government. It clarifies that three-member boards of townships, road districts and small towns do not violate the open meetings law if two or more members meet without giving public notice to fix a bridge or road or do other work previously approved in a legal public meeting. In most townships, the elected supervisors also are the ones who actually fix roads or bridges.
Among the five measures rejected by the Legislature were bills that would have clarified that police logs of calls for service and criminal mug shots could be made public, expanded open-meeting requirements for some government committees and task forces, and specified that email or other electronic communication among a quorum of board or commission members is a teleconference subject to the open meetings law if official business is discussed.
South Dakota’s open meetings law requires state and local boards and commissions to give notice of a meeting and its agenda at least 24 hours in advance. Those meetings can be closed to the public only if the discussions are about personnel issues, student performance, litigation or contracts, employee contract negotiations, pricing strategies by publicly owned businesses, and certain economic development matters.
Dave Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association and a task force member, said the Legislature might be ready to accept some of the defeated proposals if some changes are made in the bills.
“With the bills that failed, we learned some things in their failure as they were going down that will be helpful in bringing them back,” Bordewyk said.
The bill clarifying that police logs and mug shots can be made public was defeated because defense attorneys said putting mug shots on television, the Internet or newspapers could prejudice the public against their clients. Bordewyk said lawmakers might approve making police logs public if mug shots are not included in the bill.
Lawmakers were not comfortable with the idea that emails and other electronic communications could amount to a public meeting, but that proposal could be changed to make it more acceptable, Bordewyk said.