Local lawmakers express
support for open government By David Lias
Plain Talk South Dakota lawmakers are beginning to find topics other than cutting the state budget as the conclusion of this year's session draws near, according to District 17 Rep. Jamie Boomgarden. "The concern is not so much the next two fiscal years that we'll be funding, because we have property tax reduction fund that will help offset the deficits," he told citizens at a legislative cracker barrel meeting held in Vermillion Saturday morning. "But it's the fiscal year 2012 that's going to be facing a $125 million deficit." South Dakota's current financial situation has grown a bit brighter because of federal funds the state will likely receive as part of the federal government's stimulus package to help the nation overcome its severe recession. District 17's other lawmakers – Rep. Eldon Nygaard and Sen. Ben Nesselhuf – also took part in Saturday's event. Nygaard noted that strings are attached to many of the funds South Dakota will receive. For example, the state Department of Transportation budget will include $186 million. "It's earmarked 60 percent for state roads, and 40 percent for county and municipalities, including roads and bridges and infrastructure, so that's good," he said. "I like the way that's earmarked, because then instead of the state roads gobbling it all up, we're going to get some spending on the local level." Nygaard has devoted attention to issues other than the budget, including a measure he introduced that would restrict the use of cell phones – specifically text messaging – while operating a motor vehicle. "The evidence is overwhelming that text messaging has outstripped drunken driving as a cause of death and serious bodily harm in motor vehicles," he said. "That was announced last summer and the National Transportation Safety Board has those numbers." The Legislature, however, won't take action on Nygaard's measure. The committee that heard his proposal voted 5-7 to move it to the 41st day of the legislative session. "This would have given one more tool for law enforcement," he said. "I think this bill will come up again. I don't think that text messaging will become any safer. I think it's a real problem." Nygaard said he also believes the Legislature should reduce its salary by 5 percent. "I felt that was a gesture that would have been appreciated by the public," he said. "It was attacked as being insignificant." He said the Legislature seems to showing more teamwork this year. "The Republican party is thinking more individually instead of just voting in bloc," he said. "It makes me as a Democrat feel that we're more involved with the process." Nesselhuf noted that the state Senate has approved a bill that presumes certain government documents are open to the public. He was asked how Gov. Mike Rounds would respond if the legislation is approved by the S.D. House and eventually makes it to his desk. "I don't know. I'll give him credit, because he's been consistent, and he was the same way when he was a state senator," Nesselhuf said. "He has never supported opening up information to the public. In fact, he was the prime sponsor of the gag law on the state treasurer's office when he was state Senate majority leader." Nygaard said he plans to support the legislation to provide more openness to government records. He also opposes measures debated earlier this session that would have allowed local governments to publish legal documents on the Internet rather than in newspapers.