It's time that South Dakota's open meeting and public record laws get with the digital age.
The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted in favor of House Bill 1153, which expands the definition of teleconferences to include meetings conducted through a formal text conversation and to require the retention of certain discussions text conversations for public inspection.
Basically, the bill makes it clear that if a quorum of a governmental body, such as a city council or county commission, discusses any public business via email or other electronic communication, the records shall be made available to the public. Text messaging from cellphones is also covered in the bill.
This bill will require the person designated to keep and maintain minutes of a public board to do the same with email and other electronic communication records of a text conversation meeting.
The bill - which now moves on to the Senate - is supported by the South Dakota Newspaper Association, of which The Daily Republic is a member.
It is also backed by Attorney General Marty Jackley, and it came from one of eight proposals from a 2012 Open Government Task Force, a 33-member panel that examined open government in South Dakota.
SDNA and The Daily Republic believe this bill extends a fundamental principle that has guided state open-meetings laws for years: When a quorum is discussing any official business, open-meeting laws should apply.
Whether public officials realize they're doing it, official business is very likely happening on a daily basis via email and text message. That's the world we live in today.
But we believe those text messages, emails and other forms of communication should be available to the public when it involves a quorum.
There are certainly instances in which city councils receive emails from their town's mayor asking for input on a policy issue that results in responses. We presume that happens with school boards and superintendents as well.
That likely results in official action during the next public meeting, and many times those decisions are rolled into consent agendas, which leaves no discussion on the matter.
That's why we believe it's so important to expand open meeting and public record laws.
If a citizen wants to know why a decision was made so quickly, those records should be open.
The use of technology with computers, tablets and smartphones has become part of our daily lives.
So to keep pace with the advances in communication, state law should expand its open meeting and public record laws. As SDNA simply puts it, public boards should conduct the public's business in public view.