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Public notice modernization bill fails in House

Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, said that newspapers already have a system in place to ask for an annual fee increase through the Bureau of Administration.

South Dakota Capitol roof.jpg
The South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre. (Matt Gade / Republic)

PIERRE — A bill to modernize and streamline public notices in newspapers failed Wednesday in the S.D. House of Representatives.

HB1050 would have require newspapers to post public notices to a central website while also modernizing how costs are calculated. That modernization would result in a 3% to 5% increase in rates, depending on the type of notice being published.

Rep. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, the bill’s sponsor, noted that newspapers are statutorily required to publish public notices. “Newspapers have to publish what they are given,” Reed said, adding that since the state sets the rates for public notice, free market principles don’t apply.

As the former mayor of Brookings, Reed said he was never concerned with how much the city was paying for public notices which he said are usually about one half of one percent of a budget. His first concern was labor costs.

“Everybody knows that’s where the expenses are,” Reed said.

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The bill’s updates in column widths and font size requirements would result in a small rate increase for newspapers, Reed said. Prior to debate on the bill, Reed offered an amendment that struck a provision in the bill that would have given newspapers as much as a 2% annual increase based on the Consumer Price Index.

Even with that provision struck from the bill, opponents of HB1050 targeted the price increase as the reason for their opposition.

Rep. Will Mortenson, R-Pierre, said that the bill had nine sections, one that dealt with the website and “eight of these sections are a fee increase.”

Mortenson said that newspapers already have a system in place to ask for an annual fee increase through the Bureau of Administration.

“These are costs directly on taxpayers,” Mortenson said of the fee increase in the bill.

Rep. Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, said a fiscal note from the Legislative Research Council about the costs associated with the legislation failed to offer any information.

“They couldn’t even figure it out,” Hansen said. “What I know for sure, it’s a fee increase.”

Hansen is sponsoring legislation, to be heard Thursday by the House Local Government Committee, that would require public notices be hosted on a state website.

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“The right answer is a website hosted by the state,” Hansen said. “It’s secure and it will last as long as we’re a state.”

Rep. Timothy Goodwin, R-Rapid City, spoke in favor of the bill, noting that weekly newspapers are the most reliable way to get access to public notices in his district where internet coverage is not reliable.

In his district, Goodwin said, everyone stops to read the paper when it comes out. “That is the only way they get notified.”

Rep. Chris Johnson, R-Rapid City, said it was important that the website for public notices be independent. During committee discussion about the bill, Johnson said he found it “bothersome” that one testifier said, “Government should have control of this process.”

The prices paid for notices, set by the state, have not kept up with inflation, according to Rep. Ryan Cwach, D-Yankton.

“They’re passing that cost on to subscribers and advertisers,” Cwach said. “Inflation has eaten into these rates.”

Reed agreed: “Costs go up. Inflation happens. We can’t starve a business that statutorily has to do this.”

The bill was defeated on a vote of 29-41.

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