February 6, 2008

A Chance to Wear a White Hat

It was gratifying to see bi-partisan support for SB-189 today in the South Dakota Senate. The long-needed open records measure passed the State Affairs Committee 6-2 and will proceed to the Senate floor next week. The bill strengthens state open records laws, instituting a presumption of openness for all public records, except those that are identified as being closed.

The beauty of SB-189 is that it safeguards everything already protected as “confidential” or “closed” by state law, while implementing a presumption of openness for all other public documents.

Another bill, SB-186, breezed through the committee. It establishes a procedure for citizens to appeal if they are denied access after requesting a record. It is, in effect, South Dakota’s first-ever process similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Taken as a package, passage of these two bills would mark at huge step forward for South Dakota. Both will arrive on the floor of the Senate next week (Feb. 11-14). Both deserve strong support.

Let’s hope the full Senate will continue the bi-partisan effort that has come forward with this pair of good bills, SB-186 and SB-189, and give them quick approval.

There’s been an expectation that Governor Mike Rounds will veto any open records legislation, but I’m not sure that’s true. I’d like to think that the Governor will re-examine these amended measures and recognize that they have been transformed into very good bills.

He certainly can’t help but notice that there is a growing bi-partisan effort that backs this legislation, and that he has an opportunity to be the "good guy, demonstrating his open-mindedness and a commitment to open government. It’s that simple. Besides, I think the Governor would look good in a white hat!

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