New South Dakota law reduces public notice of state meetings

Capitol News Bureau
KELO Pierre Flag

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s advance-notice period gets shorter, starting July 1, for agendas of public meetings of state government boards and commissions.

A new state law passed last winter means the posting date becomes part of the 72-hour period. Under the old law that expires June 30, the posting date had been outside the 72-hour window.

There’s also no requirement in the new law regarding the state board or commission reporting the time the agenda is posted.

A key part of the law hasn’t changed. Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays still won’t be counted as part of the 72-hour period for state boards and commissions.

The shorter window wasn’t publicly opposed by organizations representing news outlets.

It was part of a broader rewrite of South Dakota’s public-meeting laws favored by municipalities, counties and school boards. The change on the state notices doesn’t affect them. They continue to operate under a 24-hour notice law.

The South Dakota Broadcasters Association didn’t take a public position. The broader intent was backed by David Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association.

“SDNA supported Senate Bill 91 for a couple reasons. One was that it attempts to reorganize and clean up the various open meetings statutes, which have been amended and cobbled together several times in recent years. We hope this clean-up will make it easier for everyone to understand the open meetings laws,” Bordewyk said.

“A second reason SDNA supported the bill was that it gives some clarification to those instances when a majority of a public board is gathered but it’s not a public meeting of the board — events such as chamber of commerce gatherings. I think this clarification written into the law will help going forward,” he continued.

“(Executive director) Yvonne Taylor of the Municipal League shared with us drafts of the bill before the legislative session started, and we were able to offer some input and suggestions. We appreciated that opportunity.

“Open government laws are – for lack of a better phrase – a work in progress. If the changes made this year don’t work as intended or expected, then I suspect the Legislature will once again debate legislation dealing with the open meetings laws,” he added.

Senator Deb Soholt, a Sioux Falls Republican, was prime sponsor of Senate Bill 91. The Senate approved it 30-0.

“So it’s not confusing for people trying to follow our open-meeting laws,” Soholt said at the Senate State Affairs Committee hearing February 6.

Taylor said at the Senate hearing the bill did nothing but moved things around. “Thank you for explaining your nothing bill,” Senator Bob Ewing, a Spearfish Republican, responded. He is the panel’s chairman.

“I think the public will be well-served by this,” Bordewyk testified at the House State Affairs Committee hearing March 4. No one spoke as an opponent and none of the House members raised questions.

Representative Tim Reed, a Brookings Republican and a council member and mayor from 2003 through 2016, led the bill through the second chamber. House members voted 65-0 in favor. He said the laws as they previously stood were confusing.

“If you’re in local government you always want to do as much as possible to be open. It helps with the public,” Reed said during the House discussion. “It’s very important for local governments to be able to understand how they should be operating with open meetings.”

Governor Kristi Noem signed it into law March 21.

The new law also clarifies that ceremonial meetings such as inaugurations aren’t subject to the requirement that a public-comment period be allowed.

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