February 5, 2008

SB189 - Good Open Records Legislation

It’s hard to imagine why any legislator wouldn’t support SB-189. It’s a good piece of legislation.

It would give South Dakotans the same standing as other citizens of these United States. When we want to see a public record that is on file with a public office, it would put the burden on government to explain why we cannot see that record.

That’s a lot different than walking in to a courthouse and having to identify and cite the state law that says you’re entitled to see it.

Simply put, SB-189 would invoke a presumption of openness. Other legislation being considered (SB-186) would perpetuate a critical flaw in current law, which essentially places the burden on individual citizens to prove why they should have access to public documents.

SB-189 does not mean that all records would be open to the public. In fact, it cites the same laundry list of exceptions that now exists. As I said, it’s hard to imagine why anyone wouldn’t support SB-189.

It’s a fundamental reminder that we are a nation – and state – “…of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Might it be inconvenient for government officials? Probably. Just like having to conduct open meetings may be inconvenient. That is a small price to pay for helping ensure that our American tradition of open government remains intact.

And yet, there are legislators who would reject the bill simply because Governor Mike Rounds might veto it.

Some say that’s because it would encroach upon our privacy, and that’s poppycock. Those concerned with privacy issues should have kept SB-81 from marching to legislative oblivion. It could have made a real difference in protecting our citizens from identity theft by making it easier for consumers to freeze their own credit records. No, this issue is more of a vendetta between the Governor’s office and the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader newspaper.

Most of us don’t give a tinker’s damn about who hunts with the Governor. And many of us are less than enchanted with the Argus-Leader. But there are more than just a few South Dakotans who believe in open government, and that includes good open records legislation.

Let’s hope SB-189 fares well in Pierre. It’s a chance for the legislature to be the good guys. If not, it’ll be a long year ahead.

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