In his report on his Legislative Interim work, Senator Arthur Rusch (R-17/Vermillion) brings up an issue that I think surfaced in one of our earlier blog discussions: We the People may not own our own laws:

I also attended the South Dakota Code Commission meeting as I represent the Senate on that Commission. The Code Commission is responsible for preparing and publishing the South Dakota Codified Laws (which is a set of books consisting of 40 volumes which contain all of the laws in effect in South Dakota). A set of the codified laws for South Dakota can be found in some libraries and most courthouses. The Commission met with a representative of Thompson [sic] Reuters, the company which has been hired to publish the code and approved a contract with them for next year. We also decided to completely re-publish three of the volumes next year.

The Code Commission also considered a request from the South Dakota State Library to digitize the Code and make it available on line as part of their objective of building an electronic collection of state documents. The Commission was concerned that Thompson Reuter [sic] may have a copyright on the code after 2004 so we gave the State Library permission to digitize the code up to that point and we will investigate whether we have any right to grant permission to the State Library after that point [Senator Arthur Rusch, “Summer Off to Busy Start for Legislators,” Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2016.07.05].

What?! A Canadian corporation owns South Dakota law? Well, that explains the Keystone pipeline….

The Code in question is more detailed than the freely accessible edition of South Dakota Codified Law and the state constitution maintained online by the Legislative Research Council. While the LRC simply publishes the text of law plus enactment and amendment dates with  references to session laws, Thomson Reuters Westlaw publishes a forty-volume hardbound set of the books Marty Jackley will throw at you, complete with cross-references, case law, and law review and journal commentaries. Those hefty tomes represent a great deal of value added by Thomson Reuters Westlaw’s editors, and it is not surprising Thomson Reuters Westlaw would want to copyright and be paid for its efforts.

Nonetheless, the law belongs to the people. Given the searching and cross-referencing every user of the Code needs, it is surprising that the state has not commissioned an electronic, hyperlinked version of the code that every lawmaker, lawyer, and interested citizen could access to have a better understanding of what’s legal and why in South Dakota.

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