PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Some South Dakota lawmakers raised more questions Thursday about why the state Department of Agriculture withholds information gathered during investigations into pesticide complaints.
Taya Runyan , director for the department’s Division of Agricultural Services, said investigative records generally aren’t public documents under state law and can be released under a subpoena or court order.
Runyan said the department receives complaints from landowners about damage. Investigators have 14 days to complete reports and the laboratory has 40 days to report its findings.
“We are investigating whether there was a misapplication,” she told members of the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee. “The focus of our investigation is on the regulatory compliance side.”
Determining liability is outside the department’s scope, according to Runyan. Investigation files can be inspected under a court order or subpoena.
“This is not uncommon among other states either,” Runyan said. She said there can be damage without misapplication and vice versa. “The two aren’t necessarily tied together,” she said.
The same issue came up during GOAC’s May 23 meeting, when the department presented information on its past three years of the program.
Senator Susan Wismer, a Britton Democrat, said Thursday the overall situation could be improved if the department didn’t shy away from identifying the applicator and whether the chemical was applied within or outside the regulations
“You never quite know for sure. It’s all gossip,” Wismer said. Wismer added it would be helpful if applicators took the department’s role more seriously and if the department disclosed the identity of the applicator and the conclusions from the investigation.
“I don’t think it encourages voluntary compliance,” Wismer said.
Representative Sue Peterson, a Sioux Falls Republican, asked if there was a reason the department doesn’t disclose more information to complainants.
Runyan said circumstances vary. She said it could be misleading to the landowner that suffered damage if the department identified the applicator. “It’s just not the focus of our investgation. We’re not looking into the cause of that person’s damage,” Runyan said.
Peterson said the complainant expects to find out. “I think they should have that ability to have that information,” Peterson said.
Runyan said the department has upgraded its website so people who suffered damage can be more knowledgeable.
“They are not filing a complaint that we enforce on their behalf,” Runyan said. She said sample results indicate what was applied or wasn’t. Runyan said the department keeps investigative records confidential because there is a specific exemption in state law.
Senator John Wiik, a Big Stone City Republican, said it’s not the position of the department to be “the final arbiter” in an investigation.
“The way they are approaching it now, they are not encouraging voluntary compliance,” Wismer said. She added, “As it is now, we’ve got shelter belts dying all over the state, I believe, because of pesticides.”