House bill seeks time for comment at public meetings

PIERRE – Public boards and commissions will need to reserve time on their agendas for public comment if HB1172 becomes law. 

Last week, Rep. Elizabeth May, R-Kyle, told her colleagues in the House about attending a local meeting with one of her constituents who had an issue she wanted to talk about. They sat through 30 minutes of old and new business and then waited outside the meeting room for an hour while the board was in executive session. When the board came out of executive session, it adjourned and the members left through a side door. 

“I expect to be able, at some point, to talk to them about my concerns,” May said. 

HB1172 ensures that time will be allowed on the agenda for public comment. The amount of time set aside is at the chairman’s discretion. 

Rep. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, questioned if giving an open-ended amount of time for public comment would allow the board or council enough time to do its work. 

Rep. Tim Reed, R-Brookings, said in his time as mayor of Brookings there were two kinds of council meetings. Some were open sessions and others were just for hearing reports. A time for public comment was always included with the open sessions, Reed said. 

“I’m afraid that this bill needs some work,” Reed said. 

Rep. Greg Jamison, R-Sioux Falls, said he supported the bill and pointed to the way public comment is handled by his local city council.

“Oftentimes characters arrive to use it as an open mic session,” Jamison said. “They appreciate it beyond belief. At the end of the day, it’s just part of the process.”

The bill passed through the House on a 60-8 vote and now goes to the Senate.

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