Governor to work with newspapers on vital records release

Governor to work with newspapers on vital records release
South Dakota's vital records can't be released on a wholesale basis, Gov. Mike Rounds told members of the South Dakota Newspaper Association Jan. 26.

Publishers and editors attended the special Newspaper Day press conference to learn if there was a way to view an index of vital records they had been denied since a new law went into effect in July.

Last year a bill was passed by the Legislature that Rounds said was supposed to allow the general public and newspaper employees to receive an informational copy of vital records. But access to a list of those records has not been easy to receive statewide.

"We know that's been interpreted differently across the state," Rounds said.

The Federal Intelligence Reform Act will make all vital records closed, Jerry Hofer of the Department of Health said. People use the vital records to steal identities, said State Health Secretary Doneen Hollingsworth. Rules for the reform act are being put together right now that will prevent the release of those records. Thirty-six states have rules governing birth, marriage and death records that are more stringent than South Dakota's, Hollingsworth said.

The governor said he would work with newspaper association members to get the access.

"If there is a way to work this particular issue so you can get the information you want we'll work with you," he said.

An agreement was worked out with the state's genealogy society so that they can look at the records if they show genealogy identification. That same arrangement was offered to the newspaper association last year but the group refused.

"That fundamentally goes against what we believe in," said SDNA General Manager David Bordewyk. "There shouldn't be privileged access to government information."

Bordewyk said research done by a national newspaper group did not indicate that such strict measures were being taken to limit records. He would be in favor of having people show identification before viewing an index of the records.

"But not an ID that just says ?I'm an SDNA member so therefore I get to see it,'" Bordewyk said.

Current law allows people to receive an informational copy of the vital records if they show identification such as a driver's license unless they have a tangible interest in the record.

"Why can't we use that same process for this?" Bordewyk asked.

The federal act stems from work done by the 911 Commission, Hofer said. The commission studied national security and drafted the pending rules as a result. Those rules carry no rule of law at the present, Hollingsworth said.


Newspaper association members also talked about Rounds' proposed pilot program to buy laptops for high school students. He'd like to purchase the laptops for 5,000 to 10,000 students in certain school districts. Schools would have to contribute $2 for every dollar they receive from the state to buy the machines.

"More school districts want to do this than we have money for the program," he said. "Some say, ?look, we're going to apply for this but we're not going to say that unless you're going to get this done.'"

When submitting their application for the program Rounds said those school districts can include the amount it will cost to maintain the program, including equipment replacement, hiring of additional personnel and technology improvements like wireless connections. He also wants to know if schools will allow students access to an Internet connection after school hours for those who don't have the Internet at home.

Lawmakers have criticized Rounds' plan because of the cost to schools and also the potential damage that could result from children taking the laptops to and from school every day. Rounds compared the laptops to textbooks. Students couldn't take them home initially.

"I'm convinced they'll be used the same way textbooks are today," he said.

Sales tax

Rounds also addressed a bill that pays businesses back for collecting sales tax. He said he wouldn't support the measure unless replacement revenue was included in the bill. It could also mean less relief for property taxpayers.


He outlined economic development successes achieved through his 2010 Initiative. He wants to increase visitor spending from $600 million to $1.2 billion by the year 2010. This year travelers to South Dakota spent more than $800 million in the state. Another goal of the initiative is to become a recognized leader in research and technology. The state is days away from taking control of the Homestake Mine and has funding and authority to build a lab at the 4,850-foot level. Sixty-five entities have expressed interest in doing experiments there.

The 2010 Initiative is offering people opportunities and increasing quality of life, Rounds said.

"Those are things that to me are exciting," he said. "People are believing. They're seeing a chance to stay in South Dakota."

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