In South Dakota, A Proposal for FOI Reform

Charles Davis
November 13, 2007 — 1,247 views  
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A task force is working on a plan to help settle disputes that arise about access to public records in South Dakota.

Here's the basic idea behind the plan: Have the Office of Hearing Examiners take over responsibility for settling disputes. Anyone who has been turned down in an attempt to see a record in the state can appeal to the OHE, which would determine if the initial denial was right or wrong.

The OHE decision, too, could be appealed in the state court system.

It's a proposal that has merit, considering the many shades of gray that exist in this state when it comes to open records.

At present, decisions to grant access to records rests at the level of the request. For instance, if a person walks into the local school and asks to see a certain record, the decision likely rests with the business manager or superintendent. Beyond that, some feel there aren't many places to appeal that decision without the help of a lawyer.

Under the proposal being worked on by the task force, the person who was denied will have options. Even to the media - which is experienced in such situations - this will be an asset. If the proposal becomes law, future disagreements about public record access may have an amicable solution.

Charles Davis


Charles N. Davis is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the executive director for the National Freedom of Information Coalition, headquartered at the School. Davis' scholarly research focuses on access to governmental information and new media law, including jurisdictional issues, intellectual property and online libel. He has earned a Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his work in furthering freedom of information and the University of Missouri-Columbia Provost's Award for Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching, as well as the Faculty-Alumni Award.