AP NEWS

Newspaper association praises Noem’s transparency efforts

March 15, 2019

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Kristi Noem has said she’d work toward building the “most transparent administration South Dakota has ever seen,” calling for a reporter shield law and bringing more sunlight to the Statehouse.

Dave Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, gave Noem’s administration a grade of “so far, so good” on transparency efforts after lawmakers this week closed out the main portion of the 2019 legislative session.

The new Republican governor has signed into law the protections for journalists who refuse to disclose information or sources. Awaiting her signature is a bill Noem’s administration supported that would fulfill a campaign pledge to limit the state’s ability to negotiate confidential settlements.

“Let’s throw open ... state government to more daylight and let genuine accountability be a guiding principle as we work to make South Dakota stronger for the next generation,” Noem said in a column after signing the shield law.

Bordewyk said that seeing the governor approve the shield law shows follow through. The law blocks courts, the Legislature and other public bodies in South Dakota from holding in contempt journalists who assert the privilege.

But he said there’s a lot left undone.

“There’s a long laundry list of things to be done in terms of more transparency in South Dakota government,” Bordewyk said.

He counted among them: tackling a lack of effective enforcement of the open meetings law; addressing fees for getting copies of public records; and making police reports and government officials’ correspondence and calendars public records.

Noem’s opponents in the 2018 race for governor, former Attorney General Marty Jackley in the Republican primary and past Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton in the general election, supported giving the public access to additional government records including officials’ correspondence.

Noem’s administration this year opposed such a bill, which failed in a House committee. The governor’s spokeswoman, Kristin Wileman, said in a February statement that Noem is committed to transparency, but opposed the bill because it was “not well thought out and causes practical problems.”

Democratic Rep. Kelly Sullivan, the bill’s main sponsor, said she proposed it because she thinks it’s important to have a transparent government. Sullivan said she hoped her measure would let Noem know that lawmakers think it’s an important issue that should be worked on.

Sutton tweeted after the committee vote that politics-as-usual won.

“It’s disappointing that the same politicians that tell voters they want an open and honest government protected their power and the status quo instead,” he wrote.

But Bordewyk said Noem has invited journalists and the public to provide her with a list of open government issues that need to be addressed.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to follow up on that,” Bordewyk said. “Let’s look to the future and see what else we can get done here, because there’s plenty of work to do when it comes to openness in government in South Dakota.”