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HB 1075 Seeks Online Posting of Public Notices, Maintains Restrictive and Obsolete Paper Language

Representative Tim Reed (R-7/Brookings) returns to the issue of posting public notices online. House Bill 1075, coming before House Local Government this morning at 10, shoehorns into our quickly obsolescing print-era statutes verbage that would allow journalism organizations that publish only online to qualify as legal newspapers and post the minutes and other notices from local and state government online.

HB 1075 has four sections. The first requires legal newspapers to post all public notices to “a statewide website, established and maintained as a repository for such notices by an organization representing a majority of South Dakota newspapers.” Such a website already exists, SDPublicNotices.com, maintained by the South Dakota Newspaper Association. The default homepage results on SDPublicNotices.com show that SDNA has posted 2,890 public notices statewide over the past month. That’s a lot of electrons!

Section 1 then requires legal newspapers that have a website (and, seriously, if you’re doing journalism in the 21st century, how do you not have a website that allows you to jump into the pocket of almost every one of your readers?) to at least post a prominent link to the statewide public notice website on their own local website homepages or post the complete notices on their own websites “in a manner that is accessible and free to the public.”

Section 2 allows legal newspapers to be distributed “in either a printed or electronic format, or both.” Amusingly, HB 1075’s revision of the current electron-free statute defining legal newspapers, SDCL 17-2-2.1, leaves in place the outdated language referring to newspapers that “contain[] at least four pages per issue, with at least one hundred twenty square inches of printed matter per page.” Alas, HB 1075 would allow news organizations that publish entirely online to qualify as legal newspapers, but only if they continue to convert their content into archaic, inflexible, memory-eating PDFs or other static documents that make it much harder for most consumers to read the “paper” on their devices of choice, pocket-sized handheld screens. I guess I could make Dakota Free Press qualify as a legal newspaper if, once a week, I simply dumped all of my blog posts from the last seven days to a Word document and printed it as a PDF formatted as 11″x17″ pages and then gave everyone a link to that PDF, but why would I want to do such redundant work and clog up the web and your phones with such a mostly useless file when you all can already get the news and analysis each day as it happens?

Of course, SDCL 17-2-2.4 keeps me and other all-online publishers from serving as legal newspapers by requiring that a legal newspaper “maintain a known office of publication in the community where its mailing permit of original entry is issued.” Office? Mail? What are those things? Section 3 of HB 1075 only amends this definition by adding that this known office must be maintained “for at least eight normal business hours a week.” Normal? What is that?

SDCL 17-2-28 requires that public notices include an inscription stating the cost of publishing the notice. HB 1075 Section 4 requires that public notices also refer readers to the statewide public notice website.

Representative Reed offered a similar stuck-between-centuries bill to allow online posting of public notices last year. The South Dakota Newspaper Association supported last year’s bill, but the school districts, city governments, and county commissions lobbied against it, and the stuck-in-a-previous-century House killed it 29–41. I would think SDNA would come argue for HB 1075 this year, since it allows the SDNA to maintain the revenue stream from publishing public notices.

While I encourage Representative Reed to consider updating other portions of the public notice statutes to better recognize the realities, cost-savings, and more swift and efficient public service of online journalism, I notice he might want to consider another amendment to acknowledge how South Dakota newspapers operate. The Sioux Falls, Watertown, and Aberdeen newspapers all publish their beloved print product in Des Moines. SDCL 17-2-2.4 says, “The terms ‘printed’ or ‘published’ mean that the newspaper is published where it maintains its known office of publication as described in this section, but no newspaper may have more than one place where it is published at the same time.” If the Sioux Falls, Watertown, and Aberdeen newspapers maintain their known offices in the communities they serve but produce their dead-tree editions in another city, in another state, have those organizations disqualified themselves from serving as legal newspapers in their communities?

I don’t get the sense that print newspapers will maintain the same connoisseurial vibe that vinyl records do, especially given that records are meant to provide lasting entertainment while newsprint is a largely disposable (compostable!) product carrying ephemeral updates whose greatest value is in the moment. News printed on paper and physically shipped to readers is, for the most part, more efficiently delivered and, for the few readers interested in ongoing usage, archived and retrieved in electronic format. Technology is print with electrons; state law should recognize this market reality by allowing online-only publishers to serve as legal newspapers and stripping away the criteria that make 21st-century news providers act like 19th-century printers.

4 Comments

  1. Richard Schriever 2022-01-20

    I have read the public notices from Lennox in my local newspaper (Lennox Independent) in various countries around the world. A few years ago, the City of Lennox used to post them on their own web site, but that has since become a sporadic event – if it ever occurs.

    Curiously, the City of Sioux falls’ Web site is NOT ACCESSIBLE outside the US. It’s like they don’t want “foreigners” to have the ability to do business with the city – or even learn about it. BIZARRE.

  2. Arlo Blundt 2022-01-20

    I want our local county seat newspapers supported and public notices do just that. It is important to have a permanent, contemporary public record of our local and state public business. I’m not sure the internet is equal to the task of preserving this important source of history as it happens.

  3. Mark Anderson 2022-01-20

    Well Cory, I’ve just retrieved my computer from the bottom of my birdcage so I can type. I do have to tell you normal hours do need to be established. When I was still working I used to get long messages from my vice president to read at 9 at night for a meeting the following morning and I just said no. Things are easier but time is time and it needs to be broken up into personal time and work time otherwise there is no personal time.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-01-21

    House Local Government passed HB 1075 yesterday 13-0. SDNA and Dakota Rural Action testified for it; the Municipal League spoke on the bill but did not formally oppose.

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