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Concerns arise that new S.D. electronic bill monitoring system makes state government less transparent

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A new online system for drafting, co-sponsoring and tracking bills through the South Dakota Legislature has some people concerned that the modernized system has made the legislative process less transparent and has removed some of the human element from lawmaking.

State officials said the new system was needed to update South Dakota’s legislative process and make legislative work more efficient. Jason Hancock, director of the Legislative Research Council, which manages the drafting and flow of proposed laws, said the new workflow system is housed within the Legislature’s website — sdlegislature.gov — and replaced the old pen-and-paper-based system for drafting, seeking co-sponsors and amending legislation.

“We’ve automated and made electronic a lot of the functions around here that have been paper functions up to this point. You’re going to see more of that electronic functionality in terms of how the committee secretaries work and how the front desk staff works and obviously how the legislators work,” Hancock said. “So, I think for some of those players this is probably the biggest change yet.”

Legislative leaders and LRC staff say the new system comes with a new suite of publicly available features that make it easier for the public to follow the Legislature’s work.

Yet some critics of the new system say that the state’s attempt to bring the legislative process into the 21st century may have inadvertently cut the public out of a key part of the legislative process — gathering co-sponsors for legislation. Others worry that the new, digital legislative workflow system may create more distance between legislators and the public.

Furthermore, some lobbyists in Pierre say the Legislature’s new system is less transparent than the old way of doing business. Legislators are now working with LRC staff to draft bills and amendments as well as inviting their colleagues to co-sponsor legislation electronically, using a system only legislators have access to. That means lobbyists and the public have been partially cut out of a process they used to play a key role in.

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