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Senate panel supports requiring meetings offer comment periods

PIERRE -- The South Dakota Senate could consider Tuesday afternoon a proposed state law requiring local governments to allow time for public comments at official meetings.

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PIERRE - The South Dakota Senate could consider Tuesday afternoon a proposed state law requiring local governments to allow time for public comments at official meetings.

The change would add one sentence: "The chair of the public body shall reserve at every official meeting by the public body a period for public comment, limited at the chair's discretion, but not so limited as to provide for no public comment."

The House of Representatives voted 60-8 for the legislation from Rep. Liz May, R-Kyle.

She and Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark, presented HB 1172 to the Senate Local Government Committee Monday.

"I wanted to have some sort of universal plan for public meetings," said May.

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The panel voted 4-2 to recommend the Senate should pass it.

Associated School Boards of South Dakota lobbyist Gerry Kaufman Jr. testified against the change.

Kaufman said it wasn't necessary because the organization offers school districts a sample policy.

Also speaking against it was Rob Monson, the School Administrators of South Dakota executive director.

Greenfield, however, noted other local governments didn't oppose the change.

"It gives the public confidence their voices are going to be heard and things aren't going to be railroaded through," Greenfield said.

Sen. Bob Ewing, R-Spearfish, and Sen. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center, voted against it. They previously served on county commissions.

Ewing said boards on which he's served have routinely offered time at the end of meetings for members of the public to bring up matters.

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Cammack warned it could lead to "unintended consequences."

Sen. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, cast the decisive vote. "The only thing that would make this bill better is if we made it apply to the Legislature," Nelson said. "I do believe this is a great bill. This is common sense."

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