- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota House committee defeated a measure Wednesday that would have opened Republican caucus meetings that currently are private.

The House State Affairs Committee voted along party lines 9-3 against the measure. Three committee Democrats supported it.

The bill’s main sponsor, Republican Rep. Stace Nelson, of Fulton, said nothing discussed in caucus needs to be kept secret.

“I believe South Dakotans have a right to know what’s going on with their legislation,” Nelson said. He added that open meetings are an important part of a robust and honest democracy.


Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the debate reminded him of past discussions on the recording of all committee meetings. He said the resistance to the bill is just a reflection of current culture and tradition in the Legislature.

Another supporter of the bill, Sam Kooiker, mayor of Rapid City, said smaller bodies of government are required by law to keep their meetings open, so the state lawmakers should as well.

“The law that you created for other local boards needs to apply to you as well,” Kooiker said. “Open government is neither Republican nor Democrat.”

Rep. David Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, said this bill unfairly targets Republicans because it would have applied specifically to the majority party.

“We’re setting up two different standards,” Novstrup said.

Rep. Dean Wink, R-Howes, said public officials are entitled to executive sessions and private meetings to discuss issues.

Other committee members who opposed the measure said state lawmakers are already accessible to the public and their stance on issues apparent.

“We have such an open process here,” said Rep. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg. “You can come and touch and talk to any legislator on any issue.”

Legislators meet for about an hour with their party’s caucus each day during session.