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South Dakota changes its definition of a legal newspaper


This interview originally aired on "In the Moment" on SDPB Radio.

We check back in with one of our Dakota Political Junkies about a bill he supported that recently became law.

Jonathan Ellis, co-founder of The Dakota Scout, dives into the legal definition of a newspaper in South Dakota and why it's changing.

Plus, we discuss other bills and issues that caught his eye as the 2024 legislative session winds down. We cover the complexities of the pipeline bills and ask if Sen. John Thune could be stepping into an important leadership role.

Jackie Hendry:
Welcome back to In The Moment: Statehouse on SDPB. I'm Jackie Hendry in for Lori Walsh.

One of the bills signed into law by the governor this session is Senate Bill 75. That bill, now law, changes the legal definition of a newspaper in South Dakota, and this law affects publications like the Dakota Scout, which is one of the bill's supporters.

We've talked with Jonathan Ellis about this bill before, but we're checking back in on his thoughts now that the bill is really and truly law, and over the last final legislative hurdles.

So, Jonathan Ellis is the co-founder of the Dakota Scout, and joins me in SDPB's Kirby Family Studio in Sioux Falls. How you doing?

Jonathan Ellis:
Good, Jackie. Very good. Well, hey, we're getting near the end of the legislative session. Right? We heard Lee talk about some of the stuff going on, and I really enjoyed the interview with Senator Schoenbeck. A lot of institutional knowledge.

But, yeah, Senate Bill 75 was signed by the governor a couple of weeks ago, so that will become officially on the books on July 1.

Jackie Hendry:
Right. I think you've touched on this in previous conversations with Lori, but I'm just imagining from a journalist's perspective, you're so used to covering how the sausage gets made, and then you step up to the plate.

Jonathan Ellis:
Yeah. I had to learn how the microphone on the committee hearings work and, yeah, anyway, it's a daunting process actually. I'm used to public speaking and so forth, but I had some nerves testifying.

Jackie Hendry:
Yeah. So, how does this new law impact the Dakota Scout and other publications like you?

Jonathan Ellis:
The newspaper legals, and for people that don't quite get what those are, those are like meeting minutes and things like that, and legal issues that come up that require public notice.

Those laws have basically been on the books really unchanged since the 1980s, and I think it's not a mystery to everybody that the newspaper industry has changed quite a bit, especially in the last few years compared to the 1980s, and so different business models are emerging, and our particular business model is not one that would have qualified as a legal newspaper under the old law.

The reason being is that the newspaper industry had excluded freely distributed newspapers, we're an advertiser-supported newspaper and we give it out free. The newspaper industry had good cause I think back then to have those restrictions, because they didn't want just advertising shoppers to then get legal notices, and to be, again, in full disclosure, the local governments have to pay the newspapers to publish those legal notices, so there's a revenue stream for the newspapers who publish those.

We did get that changed, so that freely distributed newspapers would qualify. There's some provisions in there that you have to meet in terms of having content requirements, of covering local news. There were some other provisions in there that you have to have an office within the county that you're in, a brick and mortar office, and so there is some provision in the requirements, of course, on you have to have a certain number of copies and a certain number of online subscribers, because part of this is an online subscriber element as well.

Jackie Hendry:
Now that that's across the finish line, what else are you watching in the statehouse as we're wrapping up?

Jonathan Ellis:
Well, and we talked about this but, obviously, the big thing is going to be some teacher funding issues for sure. The big thing, though, will be the carbon pipeline issues. We wrote about this last night that this kind of emerging consensus or compromise package that's coming forth, it's not going to make everybody happy. Compromises never do.

You've seen some of the opponents to the pipelines be central players in trying to get some of this stuff compromised. Landowner bill of rights, the sponsors say this will have the most protections of any state in South Dakota. Or, sorry, in the United States. We are our own state.

There's a lot of provisions in this. It's a three bill package, and it provides some revenues for counties and things like that, but there are some ... I should say, another couple key things in my view is that it requires these pipelines to be a foot deeper than federal standards, and there's also some transparency, and one of the issues that a lot of the opponents are concerned about are the leak modeling, and so it requires that leak modeling be disclosed to the public, which I think that's a good point for transparency, so there's a lot in it, but it does preempt some of the county regulations that have been put in place in a few counties.

Jackie Hendry:
Right, and that was going to be my question, the things that get left on the table in a compromise, that's why those are not always satisfactory to everybody, but what are some of the things that might be left on the table if the compromise sits, as it currently sits, at this moment in time could change even more in the next few hours.

Jonathan Ellis:
Yeah. It could change. Obviously, I think that the big hurdle will be in the House, and there'll be issues about the eminent domain. Currently, carbon pipelines qualify for eminent domain in state law and efforts to remove them in the last two sessions have failed.

There will be I suppose questions about greater oversight by the PUC, and what's their role? They have a role in this but there's some provisions in the package that talks about their greater role in this too.

A lot of this will be hashed out, and I'm sure the counties, there are some counties who are going to be upset about the preemption, but I've talked to some county commissioners too, who they warned before the legislative session that this is going to happen.

Every time counties go in, quote work, crazy quote work of different regulations, the industries, whatever the industry is, I mean you can look at large scale confinement operations on the ag side, the state has stepped in and said, "Look, you guys, you can't do ..." They've tried to regulate uniformly.

So, this was not a surprise to some county commissioners that have been more in favor of working with pipeline companies.

Jackie Hendry:
Yeah. Turning away from the legislative session to the national scene, big news, Mitch McConnell announcing stepping away from Senate majority leadership position, opening the door, presumptively, maybe not so presumptively, for South Dakota's own John Thune. What are we looking at? What would that mean for South Dakota if it pans out?

Jonathan Ellis:
It's a stature kind of position. It means that, obviously, Senator Thune is working within that conference to establish where they're going in terms of policy. The leadership posts I think were, in some sense, were a bigger deal a few decades ago, because you had the ability to direct more pork funding to states, and that's not as big a deal as it once was. I recall back 20 years ago, you get press releases from Senate offices outlining all the spending projects we've brought on a certain bill, and that's not something you see anymore, because pork has become kind of a dirty word there.

It carries a lot of stature. You set the policies going forward for the entire conference, and it can't be bad for South Dakota, if he's the leader.

Jackie Hendry:
Does this seem like a high likelihood that that's going to be the next step or are there challengers? I haven't quite seen that.

Jonathan Ellis:
Yeah. There will be challengers. It's a question of ... I wrote about this, and this is kind of something left on the cutting room floor that I didn't have in my story, but I asked Senator Thune about what's different about the Republican Senate Conference now than it was when he entered office in 2005, and, of course, he said it's more populist, and the question of whether or not ... His point is it's still the party of small government.

The question will come about whether the party conference has moved in a way that maybe is outside of where Senator Thune is. Thune has been ... Again, he's a conservative but he's also been one of these willing to govern. Some in Congress don't want to actually govern, they want to try to force their will and get what they want, and that's never really possible.

I think Republicans and Thune and McConnell have been criticized, because they've been willing to cut deals, and I think they would say, "Well, yeah, we cut deals, but we also get conservative victories within those deals."

So, I don't know where the conference is at with regard to Senator Thune. Now I know he's worked very well with his colleagues. There are other ... I call them the three Johns, John Barrasso and Cornyn, who are also considered potential contenders in that, but Thune is the number two. By everything I know, he's very well-liked within the conference, so I would think he would have probably a leg up in that race.

Jackie Hendry:
My guest has been Jonathan Ellis, co-founder of the Dakota Scout, and our Dakota political junkie for today's conversation. Jonathan, thanks for joining us.

Jonathan Ellis:
I'm happy to be here.


Jackie is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls Studio.
Ellen Koester is a producer of In the Moment, SDPB's daily news and culture broadcast.
Ari Jungemann is a producer of In the Moment, SDPB's daily news and culture broadcast.