S.D. Executive Board declares the petition and votes for a special session are public records

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The public’s right to know prevailed over lawmakers’ secrecy Tuesday at the South Dakota Capitol.

The Legislature’s Executive Board decided that a petition for a special session and the names of the lawmakers who formally vote to support it are public records.

The dispute stemmed from the recent special session that lawmakers called to begin considering the possible impeachment of state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.

House Speaker Spencer Gosch, R-Glenham, refused to release the names of representatives who voted for the special session.

Senate president pro tem Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, initially released the names of the senators who supported the special session.

When Gosch wouldn’t budge, Schoenbeck requested the House names from Reed Holwegner, the executive director for the Legislative Research Council, and released them.

Schoenbeck became president of the Executive Board this year, replacing Gosch, who didn’t attend the meeting Tuesday.

The vote was 11-1 that the petition and the names of legislators supporting it should be public.

The provision in the South Dakota Constitution didn’t specifically say whether the names should be public or a secret.

Holwegner, in denying a request by KELOLAND News for the names, said the Legislature is allowed to do things in secret and keeping the names private was one of those.

Senator Mary Duvall, R-Pierre, said Tuesday she considered the petition for a special session and votes supporting that petition to be public records. Representative Roger Chase, R-Huron, seconded her motion.

Duvall said she presumed the impeachment-session petition and her vote for it were public information. “The public has a right to know,” she said.

David Bordewyk, representing the South Dakota Newspaper Association, spoke in support. “I think it’s a good step, a good clarifier,” he said.

Representative Trish Ladner, R-Hot Springs, cast the nay. She said that a promise of confidentiality made beforehand should be respected.

Excused were Gosch, Senate Democrat leader Troy Heinert of Mission and Senator Ryan Maher, R-Isabel.

Schoenbeck said it would be official policy of the Legislature until somebody changes it.

“I suspect this won’t be revisited,” Schoenbeck said.

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