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Lawmakers Talk About Open Records Law

September 20, 2011, 10:13 PM by Kelly Bartnick

Lawmakers Talk About Open Records Law
SIOUX FALLS, SD - South Dakota legislators are talking about amending the state's open records law after both the Yankton and Sioux Falls School districts refused to open their superintendent contracts to the public.

The issue has already gone as high as Governor Dennis Daugaard, who recently put out his own statement pledging to put forth legislation to change the statute if no one else does.  But the issue appears to have bipartisan support among legislators.
South Dakota's Open Records law has only been on the books since 2009. Sioux Falls Senator Todd Schlekeway was in the legislature when it was passed and says this latest challenge is the biggest yet.

"There were quite a few exemptions in that first bill. And so now that it has been in place for several years, the situations are going to arise," Schlekeway said. 

He says this latest situation proves the bill needs some tweaking. That is something both democrats and republicans already agree on.

"It has been that since day one. We say bipartisan support for the open records bills from this year. And I think people from both parties respect that," Sioux Falls Senator Angie Buhl said. 

The 2009 law says personnel information "other than salaries and routine directory information" is not public. Neither side believes the school districts are in violation of the statute, but say they are not cooperating with the intent in which it was written.

"It does seem like it's within the letter of the law, but not within the spirit of the law. Especially since the district seems to make a distinction between how they treat teacher contracts, which are public and available on the district website and administrative contracts which are very much not public," Buhl said. 

"The citizen and taxpayer do need to find out about employee contracts. I think even the Sioux Falls School district agrees with that. It's just their interpretation of the statute is a little different," said Schlekeway.

Lawmakers say there could be several bills introduced dealing with the issue in the 2012 Legislative Session. Other amendments could also be needed as the law is tested in future sessions.

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