Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias The 2003 session of the South Dakota Legislature is nearly a thing of the past, inspiring individuals and groups to pause for a moment to look back instead of ahead.

It�s a time when nearly every South Dakotan assesses how their lawmakers have changed their lives. Some of the changes are for the better.

Some aren�t.

The newspaper industry in South Dakota is just one of dozens of special interests that have certain axes to grind in Pierre during the session.

Newspapers, however, are a bit of a non-exclusive special interest. Freedom of the press runs hand in hand with people�s freedom of expression, and their right to know what�s happening in society, especially in government.

In other words, legislation that interferes with or damages the ability of newspapers to report and publish the news has an effect on more than those of us employed in the industry.

It also has an affect on you, the reader.

So let�s look back and see how we fared in Pierre.

Senate Bill 178 would have allowed the state�s largest schools and largest cities the option of putting their minutes on the Internet instead of publishing them in the newspaper. The bill also had provisions for putting the minutes at the local public library or mailing them to residents who request them.

It�s a bad law. If passed, it would have made it more difficult for the public to be aware of the dealings of local government.

We sent e-mails to our District 17 Sen. Joe Reedy, urging him to vote against this negative piece of legislation.

Reedy, a member of the Senate Local Government Committee, did the opposite of what we requested. He first voted to pass an amended version of the bill out of committee.

After stalling on a 3-3 vote, Reedy voted with the majority of the committee to send the bill to the full Senate with a �do not pass� recommendation.

The full Senate then voted 19-16 to strike the �not� in the recommendation, which meant the Senate could take up the bill for full debate.

Reedy was among the senators voting to strike the �not.� Upon a full debate, the Senate killed the bill on a 22-13 vote.

Reedy was among the 13 narrow-minded lawmakers who supported this bill that would have damaged your right to know the dealings of local government.

A provision in Senate Bill 178, which stated that all public notices must carry a sentence disclosing the cost of publication for that public notice, was brought back later to the full Senate through another legislative maneuver. That provision was defeated on a 20-15 vote.

Lawmakers were unable to strengthen the state�s open-meetings law this session. House Bill 1137 would have changed the penalty for violating the law from a criminal offense to a civil action. Rep. Bill Peterson sponsored this bill on behalf of the newspaper industry.

The bill was introduced to put effective enforcement into the open-meetings law. It faced tough opposition from the Municipal League, and was defeated in the House Local Government Committee.

A subsequent maneuver to have the House floor consider the bill also was defeated.

House Bill 1179 would have repealed the gag law. The bill received overwhelming support in the House and was defeated in Senate Local Government Committee, where senators said they want to hear what the attorney general�s task force on government openness says about this issue before moving on any gag-law legislation.

House Bill 1207 would have put a tax on advertising and used the revenues for a new teacher career fund. This bill was defeated in House Education Committee.

House Bill 1216 would have removed the current sales-tax exemption for advertising services. The House Taxation Committee killed the bill.

Senate Bill 10, which was approved by the legislature and signed into law by the governor, says that if more than 50 percent of a facsimile ballot is blank, then that blank portion does not need to be published in the newspaper.

The bill also clarifies the time frame for when facsimile ballots must be published before an election. The South Dakota Newspaper Association (SDNA) opposed the bill in its original form, which said that any blank space in a facsimile ballot need not be published. The 50 percent provision was a compromise with the secretary of state�s office.

Senate Bill 92 would have banned political advertising on television and radio during certain time periods before primary and general elections. The bill was defeated by the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Senate Bill 153 would have changed the requirement for official newspapers named by counties. Current law says that a county shall name up to three official newspapers, if there are that many in the county. The bill would have allowed counties to name only one official newspaper. It was narrowly tabled.

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