Public notices to remain in state's newspapers

by Tara Lynn Okeson, Community News Service

A bill that would permit government entities to forego publishing public notices in newspapers was killed by the House of Representatives' committee on local government February 5.

House Bill 1135, introduced by Rep. Roger Hunt, R-Brandon, would have allowed school boards, local and county governments and state government to post financial reports and notice of elections, bids, financial reports, meetings and minutes on the Internet instead of in newspapers. Under the bill, the digital records would need to be kept for 10 years.

"What we're seeking to do is to give local governments and school districts local control relative to the publication of their materials," Hunt said during the bill's first committee hearing February 3. Cost of publication was a driving force behind the bill, he said. "We are all interested in trying to save as much money as we can without jeopardizing a notice being given to the people that we serve. He said, "I think it's very, very important that we recognize that this bill is permissive legislation."

David Bordewyk, lobbyist for South Dakota Newspaper Association, said, "Putting notices online only, and not publishing them in the community newspaper, would disenfranchise many South Dakotans, particularly senior citizens."

"Publishing public notices in newspapers provides bona fide permanent record that cannot be altered, hacked or manipulated," Bordewyk said. He said third-party verification is vital to ensuring notices and minutes are not changed.

Bordewyk said House Bill 1135 is an anti-open government bill. "Putting information online does not equate to ink on paper."

Yvonne Taylor of the S.D. Municipal League said, "This bill is not about openness.... This is about money. The reality is, we need to find a way to replace those functions that the newspaper is performing now that it will not be performing in the future."

Eric Erickson, lobbyist for the S.D. Association of County Commissioners, said cost is an issue. He said Harding County spends approximately $4,000 per year publishing public notices, and Minnehaha County spent $72,000 in 2008. "So we're talking significant money that could go to road funds, additional staff, or to provide additional other services," he said.

Bordewyk said, "On average, the cost of publishing public notices for a local government entity is less than one half of one percent of their annual budget."

During committee discussion, Rep. Darrell Solberg, D-Sioux Falls, said, "I am all for local control, but I'm also all for accessibility." House Bill 1135 was defeated, 7-5.