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Legislators differ on publishing public employee benefits in SD

PIERRE -- The Legislature may require the publication of the full package of benefits for each school, city or county employee.

The amount for each person might be on the Internet rather than in the local newspaper.

The local governments and schools already must publish the individual salaries annually, as part of the minutes in the official local newspaper.

Some of the battle over SB 180 appears to be subtly about keeping the extra information out of easy reach for taxpayers.

Opponents argue that all of the information can be obtained at the local finance office.

But mostly the dispute is over the additional cost for the additional space in the legal advertising in the newspaper.

It's in a deadlock right now. The Senate voted 28-5 that the benefits -- Medicare, Social Security, average amount of insurance, retirement and any nonprofessional membership fee -- should be in the newspaper as a second figure next to the salary.

The House Local Government Committee decided Tuesday the local board or commission can publish the extra detail on its Internet site if it has one. The opponents are neutral if that's the approach.

The House of Representatives will see the bill next, possibly as early as Thursday afternoon. Its lead sponsor in the House is Rep. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg.

The bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Corey Brown, R-Gettysburg, said Tuesday he understands the points on each side of the Internet v. newspaper argument. "What I really care about is getting the information out there," Brown said.

The South Dakota Newspaper Association wants the bill in its Senate form requiring the newspaper publication.

But Dianna Miller, a lobbyist for the large school districts, said Tuesday that newspapers are also pushing to halt school districts from reaching exclusive broadcast contracts for school sports.

Miller said SDNA also opposed Internet publication of school board minutes as a replacement for newspaper publication.

This fight is also about changing types of technology.

The SDNA's Dave Bordewyk said this about benefits being on the Internet rather than in newsprint: "Putting it on the the website is like hiding it in the wide open."

But Rep. Tim Rounds, R-Pierre, said Internet devices are the current direction.

"If it's news, it should be covered as news," Rounds said.

Various witnesses Tuesday indicated that benefits can add perhaps as much as one-third to total compensation.

Brown used the example of a $30,000 teaching salary and another $10,000 of benefits.

The other complaint about the bill is state government employees including university presidents aren't covered by a similar requirement.

There was an attempt to add state employees but that was defeated in the Senate hearing.