- Associated Press - Monday, October 16, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Two candidates for South Dakota governor have committed to supporting legislation that would give the public access to additional government records including officials’ correspondence, a major potential shift in state open records law.

Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton recently proposed draft legislation that would remove exemptions restricting access to public employees’ correspondence, memoranda, calendars, working papers and telephone call records. Attorney General Marty Jackley, a Republican also running for governor, said he would sign such legislation if elected.

Sutton said he would pursue the measure as governor - should he succeed outgoing GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard - if it isn’t approved before then. Daugaard can’t run again next year because of term limits and leaves office in 2019.

The proposed changes would substantially expand the government records available to the public. Sutton said the push is about having an accountable government.

“I just get the sense out there that people are very distrusting of government as a whole, and I think more transparency will improve that,” Sutton said. “That’s one way to either root out the problems that we’re having or to build trust that, in fact, things are being done correctly.”

Jackley said that government transparency that helps prevent fraud and waste while protecting privacy rights is “good government.”

“As Attorney General, I have demonstrated with action and not just words my support for government transparency,” he said.

Jackley cited examples including open government task forces he’s formed and a law passed this year that made booking photographs for felonies public records. Sutton voted against that bill.

Jackley said he intends to initiate another open government panel if he becomes governor.

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, another Republican in the race, in a statement called government transparency “essential,” but didn’t commit to supporting the measure. Noem said she would listen to state residents and focus on the “best, publicly-debated reforms” to make government more accountable to the people.

Sutton proposed the draft measure as a member of a legislative oversight committee that has examined South Dakota’s GEAR UP scandal involving embezzled funds and a dead family.

It could face difficulty advancing during the upcoming 2018 legislative session. Daugaard’s chief of staff, Tony Venhuizen, said in an email that the governor supports transparency but understands how the proposal would affect the “nature and candor” of the records.

“He believes that a person who is in the fishbowl acts differently, and the apparent transparency is not genuine,” Venhuizen said.

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