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Gov. Noem has emphasized her "four pillars of protection" during her campaign and the first weeks of her term in office. One of the four is "protection from government secrecy."

She has emphasized transparency at all levels of state and local government. So it does seem ironic that state legislators appear to be heading in the other direction.

The rules of South Dakota's legislative session are substantial, but here's a quick summary: a bill is introduced and heard in a committee, allowing for public input, then passed or defeated. It then follows a path of going through both the House and Senate, all open to the public, then to the governor.

Because the session lasts only a couple of months, and there are roughly 500 bills to consider, there is naturally a deadline for introducing a bill. That deadline has passed this year, so everything should be on the table, right?

Not right. Legislators have on occasion introduced "placeholder" bills, in which a bill is introduced before the deadline with a vague title and very little text.

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House Bill 1083 is an example. It is "An Act to revise certain programs to support education in South Dakota." That's it.

But remember, bills can be amended at various stages on their journey through the Legislature. In some rare cases, a placeholder bill is even passed by both houses, and the actual language of the bill is added in conference committee without public input.

We can understand a partially developed bill being introduced by the deadline, then modified and improved along the way. But hiding the intent of a bill to avoid public knowledge or scrutiny is wrong.

In the 2019, there appear to be 44 placeholder bills, more than observers ever remember. We don't know if it's an intentional act of rebellion, or if there are a whole bunch of secrets being held from the public.

Either way, the legislative process has become a bit cloudier this session, and it's not the right way to enact legislation.

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