South Dakota's dismal record on openness in government would greatly improve if the Legislature acts to approve the recommendations of the Open Government Task Force. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm of state lawmakers to seriously tackle open government reform appears to be fading.
The task force that was created by Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley included a cross-section of citizens, including from news media and the legal profession, who looked at ways to provide the public better access to state and local government boards, committees and records. The task force recommended eight bills that would improve the flow of information to the public.
The bills, and action taken by lawmakers to date, are:
HB 1108: An Act to expand the application of certain open meetings provisions to certain committees of public boards. Passed House 63-5.
HB 1109: An Act to provide that criminal booking photos and police logs are open records. House State Affairs rejected 13-0.
HB 1110: An Act to provide for openness in certain electronic records databases and to open certain information regarding electronic record systems. Passed House 70-0.
HB 1111: An Act to repeal the five-year period after which pardon records are sealed. House State Affairs rejected 7-6.
HB 1112: An Act to clarify the application of certain open meetings provisions to certain three-member public boards. Passed House 56-14.
HB 1113: An Act to expand the definition of teleconference to include certain meetings conducted through electronic text colloquy and to require the retention of certain records of text colloquy meetings for public inspection. Passed House State Affairs 7-6.
HB 1114: An Act to repeal the confidentiality status of certain derogatory materials and to create an exception to certain open records provisions for certain defamatory information. House State Affairs rejected 13-0.
HB 1115: An Act to clarify the deliberative process exception to certain open records provisions. Passed House 68-0.
Another open records bill that is not part of the task force's package is Senate Bill 167, which would require governmental bodies to keep minutes of executive or closed sessions. A hearing on the bill is scheduled today in the Senate Local Government Committee.
Three of the proposed bills have already been rejected, and HB 1113, which would require keeping records of teleconference meetings, and any e-mails, text messages, chat services and other media used during official meetings, was barely passed by the committee.
We are especially disappointed that the House State Affairs Committee rejected HB 1109, which would make criminal booking photos and police logs open records. In most states, mug shots and police logs are available to the public; there's no good reason to restrict access in South Dakota.
It is our view, that all of the Open Government Task Force's recommendations and SB 167 should be accepted and passed by the Legislature. The public has a right to know what business state and local bodies are conducting and what records are being kept.