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House panel rejects anti-newspaper bills

PIERRE -- State lawmakers blocked attempts Thursday to cut the guts from South Dakota's law that makes local governments and school boards publish minutes from their meetings in local newspapers.

PIERRE - State lawmakers blocked attempts Thursday to cut the guts from South Dakota's law that makes local governments and school boards publish minutes from their meetings in local newspapers.

Twice the House Local Government Committee voted 11-1, first against HB 1141, then against HB 1142, in another battle of a long war over South Dakota publication laws.

The latest incident flamed up in November, when the corporate owner of weekly newspapers at Belle Fourche and Sturgis locked their doors with one week of notice.

Just as suddenly, Butte County and most of Meade County were without a newspaper.

The Black Hills Pioneer stepped up and hired three more reporters to help fill the gap. But payments to the Pioneer for putting meeting minutes in the paper cover only part of the additional costs, publisher Letitia Lister told the committee.

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She said the family-owned Pioneer has been in Lawrence County for 141 years and is widening and deepening its coverage into the new areas.

But as for the minutes, she said: "It's certainly not a money-maker for us."

Rep. Tom Brunner, R-Nisland, brought the two bills Thursday. He led a parade of city, county and school lobbyists asking the committee to pass at least one of them.

Brunner wanted to allow publication of minutes on Internet sites. Copies of the minutes also would have been available other ways, including at the local newspaper office and through U.S. mail to those requesting postal delivery.

Associated School Boards of South Dakota executive director Wade Pogany told the committee the losses of the two papers were the beginning of a possible trend.

South Dakota Newspaper Association lobbyist Justin Smith said no other state has allowed publication of minutes on the Internet rather than in a newspaper.

Rep. Nancy York, R-Watertown, asked the committee how many wanted to go home and "put another arrow in the quiver of the naysayers" by eliminating the requirement for newspaper publication of meeting minutes.

"What kind of cost do you put on transparency?" York said, adding there are "a lot of loyal readers of public notices" in newspapers.

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Rep. Lana Greenfield, R-Doland, also focused on government openness. "I think this is about transparency and we have to be fair to all people," she said.

Many older people and citizens with disabilities read every word in the papers they receive, according to Greenfield.

"I just don't think this makes any sense," she said.

Rep. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, praised the Pioneer for moving more resources into the communities.

"When that goes silent, that's when you start having problems in your cities," said Reed, who was mayor before his 2016 election. He said newspapers served an important purpose in protecting transparency.

"There needs to be a third party," Reed said.

Rep. Jason Kettwig, R-Milbank, said the city government spends about $2,700 annually to publish its meeting minutes. He said that wasn't "too big a burden."

"I think we're going to get to the people we want to get to if we keep putting it in the paper," Kettwig said.

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After the committee killed the first bill, South Dakota Municipal League executive director Yvonne Taylor sat down to explain the second one.

She knew what was coming.

"The older you get the more you appreciate a good funeral," Taylor said.

She said legislators from western South Dakota asked her to develop a solution. "I wish this weren't happening but it is," she said.

Taylor held up a notarized one-page form each newspaper files with the South Dakota Secretary of State office.

That sheet would have been used, under a formula the second bill proposed, for determining when newspaper circulation dropped below 40 percent of the area's residents.

If a newspaper fell too low, local governments and school boards wouldn't be required to put their minutes into print.

"We're urging you to let us do it better," Taylor said.

The one defender on the committee was Rep. Greg Jamison, R-Sioux Falls. He's been on the Sioux Falls city council and is running for mayor in the spring election.

"I would concur there is so much work that needs to be done. The tide is changing. The state of South Dakota is changing," Jamison said.

But he wasn't able to get another committee member, even as a courtesy, to second his motions recommending passage for either bill.

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