November 18, 2007

Kunerth: Legislature Has Work To Do!

Good friend Bill Kunerth of Belle Fourche is on a panel that regularly provides viewpoints to the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader on a variety of issues. It's part of what they call Dakota Comments. The Legislature has been studying whether to adopt a code of conduct. Do we need one, in light of Ted Klaudt's actions in the past year? And if we do, what ought to be included in the code? Here's Bill Kunerth's take on the topic.


The state definitely needs a conduct code for legislators, and more. Some state codes spell out specific conduct prohibitions. e.g. improper sexual activities, alcohol and drug abuse. Others refer to general behavior.

I prefer the latter, such as in the Illinois code (I know, it’s a lousy state to use as an example) which cites “conduct unbecoming to a legislator or which constitutes a breach of the public trust.” Then, allow a bi-partisan ethics committee of legislators and/or an ethics commission of parties outside the legislature to define and enforce the rules.

The South Dakota Legislature does not have a permanent ethics committee but formed an ad hoc group to hear the case against Senator Dan Sutton. It was dissolved after the hearing.

In addition to rules on moral conduct, South Dakota needs to strengthen its accountability and openness laws. Our state ranked 50th in a 2002 Integrity Index of state governments which evaluated these areas. It was conducted by the Better Government Association and the Ford Center for Global Citizenship (check “BGA Integrity Index”) and judged freedom of information laws, whistle blower protection, campaign financing, gifts/honoraria, and conflicts of interest. Not much has changed since the study, except for a commission named by Attorney General Larry Long which is helping close some of the gaping loopholes in the state’s open records law.

South Dakota also received an F in a 2007 study on campaign disclosure by the UCLA Law School and Center for Government Studies. These reports make clear that the South Dakota Legislature has work to do in the areas of ethics, accountability and openness.


Bill Kunerth is an Iowa State University Emeritus Professor of Journalism.

No comments: