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Open meetings law changes take effect Sunday

Two changes to South Dakota's open meetings law will clarify when public meeting agendas are posted and how the public can participate in certain public meetings conducted by teleconference.

Two changes to South Dakota's open meetings law will clarify when public meeting agendas are posted and how the public can participate in certain public meetings conducted by teleconference.

The changes are among many new laws approved by the Legislature last winter that take effect July 1.

Public boards that are subject to the state's open meetings law will now need to make sure their meeting agenda is posted in a place accessible to the public for at least a full 24 hours prior to the meeting. The agenda also must be posted to the public board's website if the board has an online site.

The new law stems from complaints taken up by the state's Open Meetings Commission. People who had filed complaints with the OMC argued the old law did not fully explain how far in advance of a public meeting an agenda notice needed to be posted.

Some argued they could not get sufficient advance notice of a public meeting because the agenda had been posted in a public building lobby not accessible other than during normal business hours.

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Rep. Burt Tulson, of Lake Norden, represents a legislative district where one of the agenda-posting complaints brought before the OMC originated. Residents in the Willow Lake School District filed a complaint regarding the posting of an agenda for a school board meeting.

"I think it's important that the public can see the meeting agenda, especially when offices are closed," Tulson said. "I think this law strikes a good balance. Many (public boards) were posting agendas already."

Sen. Ried Holien, of Watertown, also was one of key sponsors of the new law. "This law was necessary to protect public oversight of government," Holien said. "This law strengthens the people's right to know and to offer input. Without ongoing vigilance, like the kind this law provides, any level of government could begin to, whether on purpose or by accident, operate in secret."

Holien agreed that the new law should not be too burdensome for public boards. "This was a concern of mine when drafting this legislation," Holien said. "While we wanted to protect the public's right to know, we also did not want to make government less responsive or more bureaucratic. Therefore, we made compliance as easy and flexible as possible. I do not see any difficulty in complying with this law."

A second change to the open meetings laws requires public boards conducting meetings by teleconference to allow the public to listen by phone or the Internet in certain circumstances.

If less than a quorum of a public board is present at its designated meeting location, then arrangements must be made for the public to listen by telephone or the Internet from anywhere.

Under the old law, the public would need to go to the public board's main office if it wanted to participate in the board's teleconference meeting.

Sen. Al Novstrup, of Aberdeen, sponsored the teleconference legislation. A frequent critic of the administration of the James River Water District, Novstrup said he became increasingly frustrated when he would have to drive from his home in Aberdeen to the district's office in Huron if he wanted to listen to a district board's teleconference meeting.

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"It wasn't that the meeting wasn't open, it wasn't available at a price you could afford," Novstrup said.

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