Leave legal newspaper requirements alone

A hoghoused Senate bill recently introduced (Senate Bill 178) during this year’s legislative session seeks to change the requirements for being a legal newspaper in South Dakota. The bill was already defeated once as Senate Bill 80, but the creators of the bill changed some wording and hoghoused (when a legislator will move to strike everything after the enacting clause of a bill and insert entirely new language, turning the bill into a completely different piece of legislation. This can happen at any point in the legislative process) it to revive it, purely for the benefit of one or two papers that recently began and don’t want to meet the legal requirements that have served the state well since it was founded.
The bill would amend one of the five state laws that defines a legal newspaper to allow free-distribution publications to publish public notices. However, it is void of any sufficient verification and protection that a free-distribution publication is being properly distributed to residents in a community served by the publication. Ultimately, it would diminish local citizens’ ability to know what local governments are doing and how they are spending taxpayer dollars.
Current law requires legal newspapers to publish and circulate with a USPS Periodicals Permit, which requires extensive record-keeping and audit trails for all paid circulation. Even copies not distributed or kept for office use must be accounted for by the newspaper. All of this helps to provide confidence to local government entities that public notices published in a legal newspaper with paid circulation via a USPS Periodicals Permit are properly distributed to an audience intended to see the notices.
Current law includes requirements for the pricing and sale of newspapers. These requirements mirror what the U.S. Postal Service requires for all newspapers that are circulated via a USPS Periodicals Class Permit. This new bill does not include any of these pricing requirements and guarantees. There is no accountability or verification for who online subscribers are in this new bill, or how much they pay. Nor is there any accountability or verification for where or how the proposed amount of printed copies are distributed.
Only a few states across the U.S. allow free-distribution publications to be a legal newspaper and in most instances it is only when there is no other legal newspaper already published in the community. This bill is an attempt to fundamentally change law that has served the public well in South Dakota since before statehood. This bill would create confusion for government entities such as cities, schools and counties that must name an official newspaper annually and place public notices in that official newspaper for the public to see and become informed about the business and happenings of their local government entities.
Newspaper readers in South Dakota look to their local community newspaper for news and information as well as public notices such as school board proceedings and bid notices. A statewide readership survey in 2021 showed that 83 percent of South Dakotans read a local newspaper every month and overwhelmingly they prefer to read public notices in their newspaper as opposed to other venues.
The South Dakota Newspaper Association and its member newspapers understand and welcome the transitional trends occurring in today’s news media environment. And we are committed to working proactively with other parties to ensure the public’s right to know and our state’s laws regarding legal newspapers and the publication of public notices properly reflect those trends and changes. However, SB178 is inadequate and would only lead to confusion and potential abuse of current law.
SB178 is created to carve exceptions into a law that benefits a select few and is a detriment to many. This is a bad bill, and we implore our legislators to strike it down.

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