South Dakota House Speaker sued over release of special session vote on AG impeachment
PIERRE, S.D. - The South Dakota Newspaper Association (SDNA) and Argus Leader Media are suing the Speaker of the South Dakota House of Representatives.
According to court documents, the newspaper and newspaper association are suing Speak Spencer Gosch (R-Glenham) for keeping secret the list of state lawmakers who voted for a special legislative session to consider impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg.
“The intent is to find out the details of who signed the petitions to favor this special session,” said David Bordewyk, Executive Director of SDNA.
The lawsuit alleges Gosch violated the state’s open records law when he “refused” to release the list of lawmakers. The lawsuit also details Gosch was unresponsive to requests from the Argus Leader to obtain the list.
The lawsuit requests the South Dakota Supreme Court to intervene immediately to force the release of the list of lawmakers, and to also stop the special session from taking place until the litigation is resolved.
Gosch has declined to disclose the names of House lawmakers who signed onto the petition to several media outlets. Additionally, Gosch has declined to share how many lawmakers signed on.
The State Senate has already released the names of those who signed the petition.
“It’s inexcusable for Speaker Gosch to continue hiding this information from the public,” Argus Leader News Director Cory Myers told Dakota News Now/KOTA Territory News. “There’s a constitutional requirement to record legislative votes, and at the very least, an obligation of elected servants to be transparent about their processes... This is basic accountability, and that’s something we will always fight for.”
Gosch did not provide a comment on the lawsuit, citing the pending litigation.
“The legislature is contemplating an impeachment proceeding which doesn’t just happen every day, so that in itself is something that has high public interest and people want to, and have a right to know,” said Bordewyk. “Secondly, you have legislators sign these official petitions, keep a tally, I would argue that constitutes an official act of the state legislature.”
The South Dakota House of Representatives has received more than the necessary 47 signatures to proceed with a special session to debate the impeachment of Ravnsborg.
Gosch will select nine members of the House, including himself, to head up a select committee to review evidence, and ultimately decide whether or not they should vote to send impeachment to the full House.
SDNA points out that this case could help create more clarity around what is, and isn’t, open records around the state legislature.
“It is very important to know clearly, whether open records and open meeting laws in South Dakota do apply to the legislature,” Bordewyk said. “This could be a case where we can get some determination on that.”
The impeachment hearings will be open to the public. They are set to begin on November 9th, or immediately following the conclusion of the special session finalizing redistricting.
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