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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Sept. 21, 2014
End secrecy with lawmakers' trips
During the legislative session and when lawmakers are not in session, the Legislature's website at legis.sd.gov provides a wealth of information about proposed laws, committee hearings and votes. But the website is only valuable if information that the public has a right to know is made available.
Despite claims by lawmakers and state government officials that South Dakota is taking great strides toward transparency, much of what public officials and elected representatives are up to remains hidden.
While Gov. Dennis Daugaard has taken the initiative to make state government more open and created a website (open.sd.gov) where the public can go to get information about local and state governments, his Open Government Task Force failed miserably, in our view, when only three of its recommended bills — minor ones at that — were passed by the 2013 Legislature. Lawmakers, apparently, don't share the governor's view on transparency in government.
That much became more clear this month when some lawmakers complained about a marked increase in travel by lawmakers this past year to functions that previously were off-limits to reimbursement by lawmakers. Even worse, finding out which lawmakers are having their travel expenses paid by taxpayers, where they are going and how much the trips cost is not easily obtained by members of the public, unless they know exactly where to look or who to ask.
The Legislature's Executive Board approves travel reimbursement for lawmakers. Its budget for taxpayer-paid trips by lawmakers was increased for 2014 by 40 percent to $1.4 million. The amount budgeted for the 2015 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 wasn't available.
The board's travel policy allows reimbursement for trips to events that are intended to educate lawmakers on legislative processes and potential laws. Some of the groups included in the policy are: the National Conference of State Legislatures, Council of State Governments, Midwest Legislative Conference, American Legislative Exchange Council, Streamlined Sales Tax Project, Uniform Laws Commission, Education Commission of the States, and Legislators Forum.
Some Democratic lawmakers objected to paid travel to the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a conservative think-tank. One lawmaker was reimbursed for travel to ALEC even though they aren't seeking re-election. Another lawmaker attended the Mount Vernon Assembly in Indianapolis that focused on a possible constitutional convention.
In our view, the Legislature and the Executive Board need to take tighter reins on taxpayer-paid travel by lawmakers. A 40 percent increase in their travel budget is out of line while other priorities are inadequately funded — teacher compensation comes immediately to mind.
We also urge that all taxpayer-paid reimbursements to lawmakers — travel, lodging and meals — are available to the public online. The Legislative Research Council maintains the Legislature's website, but its usefulness is compromised if what should be public information isn't available.
Stop wasting taxpayers' money, and stop being so secretive.
Capital Journal, Pierre, Sept. 22, 2014
The grassland is a great resource. Let's not take it for granted,
The hunters we talked to for our story about the opening of grouse season were from Iowa. In past years we've featured grouse hunters from Michigan. One year we talked to an elated hunter from Colorado who managed to get a triple down early in the pheasant hunting season — pheasants, sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken, all in one hunt on the very same day.
What all these out-of-state hunters have in common, of course, is their destination. We meet them because they come here, to the Fort Pierre National Grassland, for at least a part of their hunt. And why shouldn't they? They own it. The Fort Pierre National Grassland is an oasis for those who want to experience the Great Plains at least somewhat the way they were previously —116,000 of publicly owned grassland that belongs to all of us.
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