News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Kill these bills before they kill you

Some legislation pending before the South Dakota legislature is merely silly. Some of it is deadly.

The deadly legislation concerns open government and the environment.

Three bills are pending on open government. All are faulty. One of the three might be an improvement. But not much. The problem is that we have government officials who do not believe that the public has a right to get information and monitor how its business is done. Consequently, South Dakotans have no way to know if criminal investigations, contract negotiations, sale of public properties (such as cement plants and rail lines), or regulatory business is being done honestly, efficiently, and in the best public interest.

Some records and proceedings, such as current criminal investigations and labor negotiations, need to be kept private until they are resolved. But at some point, the records of those proceedings need to be open to public scrutiny. And that means they should been subject to sunshine laws and freedom of information procedures.

South Dakota ranks absolute last among the states for open government. The proposed open government bills do nothing to improve that status. Two of the bills actually provide more pretexts for closing government that what exists now. Those bills are HB 1280 and SB 186. These bills are more fitting for a Third World dictatorship than an American democracy.

They represent the inane attitude displayed by state officials toward the question of open government.

SB 189 is less restrictive about what meetings and records should be open to the citizens. But it lacks the sunshine provisions and freedom of information that would give the public the right to examine just how its business has been conducted. However, it is probably better than nothing and a baby-step in the right direction.

A bill that would affect the environment, SB 1148, is an atrocity. As matters now stand, if a facility that produces wastewater wants to set a system for using that sewage for irrigation, it must apply for exceptions to environmental laws and be approved by a series of safety, health, and environmental agencies. The legislature has to approve and provide for any such applications. SB 1148 would exempt sewage from livestock slaughtering operations from this requirement.

The use of sewage for irrigation purposes, which is what is behind this bill, has been thoroughly studied. Its first danger is that it would spread bacteria and virus on the land and expose humans, livestock, and wildlife to concentrated biohazards. For humans, they include e coli, hepititus, listeria, salmonella, microbes and many parasites. Sewage also contains heavy metals which can drastically alter the soil, the growing conditions, and the environment in general.

South Dakota for some reason seems bound and determined to firmly establish itself as a Third World entity with dictatorial government and a deteriorating environment. That is exactly where the faulty open government and anti-environment bills are taking us.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States