A perennial open government issue in South Dakota, the taking of records during public bodies’ closed sessions, failed narrowly in a Senate committee Wednesday.
The measure, Senate Bill 167, would have required public boards to take notes and audio recordings when meeting behind closed doors to discuss legal, personnel or other private matters. It provided for how a judge could then release those recordings if there were legal action concerning that closed discussion.
Supporters said the measure would help make boards more effective, and protect them if they were falsely accused of breaking open meetings laws.
“If we were sued, there’s no better evidence than to be able to pull the tape out and show the public that our intent was for the best, and that we did things right,” said Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes.
Other supporters were Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, and Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker.
Opponents included representatives of the Sioux Falls School District, the organizations representing the state’s cities, school boards and towns and townships.
They argued there was no need for this bill, which they said could curtain discussion of sensitive matters and open bodies up for lawsuits.
“The very time you need to have open discussions… they’re going to pull back because of that tape recorder,” said Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota.
Though several members of the Senate Local Government Committee pronounced themselves torn on the issue, a majority ultimately voted against passing the bill.
Sens. Craig Tieszen, Deb Soholt, Chuck Welke and Jean Hunhoff voted against recording executive sessions. Sens. Lederman, Ried Holien and Mark Kirkeby voted in favor.