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South Dakota newspaper pushes House Speaker to open records

November 22, 2021 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A South Dakota newspaper is preparing to launch a second lawsuit if the House Speaker does not disclose the names of lawmakers who called for a special legislative session this month to consider whether to impeach the state’s attorney general.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the South Dakota Newspaper Association last month asked the state Supreme Court to force House Speaker Spencer Gosch to divulge who petitioned for the special session.

A sizable majority of the Republican-dominated House voted Nov. 9 to have a committee prepare a report and recommend whether Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg should be impeached for his conduct surrounding a fatal car crash. He pleaded no contest in August to a pair of misdemeanors in the crash that killed 55-year-old Joseph Boeve.

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The organizations argued that Gosch had violated state open records laws by keeping secret a record that triggered legislative action, but the high court declined to step in and ruled the organizations had to follow the procedures for other public records requests. The Legislature met earlier this month without the public knowing which lawmakers had petitioned for the special session.

But the news media organizations indicated they would continue to press Gosch and the Legislature to divulge the record. A lawyer representing the media organizations contacted the Legislative Research Council and House Speaker Spencer Gosch last week about serving a lawsuit to force them to divulge the record.

David Bordewyk, executive director of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, said Monday that a lawsuit has not been filed, but that the organization intends to press for the records to be opened to the public.

“It’s not right and it sets a bad precedent if it were to stand,” he said of Gosch’s decision to keep the record secret.

The Argus Leader did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

To call the special session, both the House and Senate had to win support from two-thirds of their members.

While the Senate leadership has released the names of lawmakers who signed the petition, Gosch argued that information is exempt from open records laws because it falls under an exception that keeps “correspondence” from being released to the public.

Gosch also criticized the media organizations for attempting to serve the lawsuit to the Legislative Research Council, which is the office that facilitates the Legislature’s work.

“If you want to come after someone, come after the one who made the decision,” he wrote on Twitter.