Bills to Restrict Open Government Mostly Failed in Legislative Session

The 2011 legislative session saw many bills to close public records or reduce public notice of government action, observes Jack McElroy on his blog.
Open government forces mostly prevailed — though some bills will be back again next year — even though some in the new Republican majority seemed to view media as an enemy.
McElroy also provides a roundup listing of open government legislation from Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the outcome of each bill. It is reproduced below.

Frank Gibson’s roundup of bills on open government issues in the past session:
SB1951/HB1875. Inspection fees. As originally filed, it would have allowed state and local government to charge $1.7 million in labor fees to prepare records for public inspection. It was amended at the last minute to say the right to inspect does not include the right to inspect cell phones and other electronic equipment that contains the records. All references to inspection fees were deleted.
SB1665/HB1539. 911 Records. It would have closed the content of all 911 emergency calls and other 911 records. As passed in the Senate, it would have been illegal to “re-broadcast or re-publish” 911 tapes, but they would have remained open to the public. It got to the House floor, but the sponsor chose not to call it up because House State and Local chairman Curry Todd wanted to amend it to make it more difficult to get 911information. It will be back in 2012.
SB1168/HB1774. Economic recruiting. Bill would have allowed local government to withhold certain details of economic development and (SB1583/HB1342) industrial recruitment activities, if local officials deemed the information to be “of a sensitive nature.” “Sensitive” was defined as anything – beyond the “proprietary or trade secret” information typically protected — that might hinder efforts to reach an agreement. It was brought by the City of Memphis and the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce. Senator Norris never moved the bill.
SB822/HB424. Burglar alarms. This bill was adopted by House and Senate. It closed information property owners provide local government when they obtain burglar alarm permits. It was brought by the state burglar alarm/security system association and was designed to keep the public from knowing who has security systems and who does not.
SB1844/HB1154. Litigation. This measure would allow government attorneys to petition a court to declare public records off-limits to attorneys and parties to litigation against the government. The Tennessee Municipal League brought the bill, arguing that plaintiffs get an unfair advantage because they can get information through the Public Records Act instead of through the normal discovery process. SB1604/HB1736 attempted to prohibit such litigation from being used to withhold public records. Both bills held to 2012.
SB115/HB284. Knox County. This initiative by Sen. Stacey Campfield proposed that all public notices (sunshine and others) be posted exclusively on local government websites in Knox County. It did not pass. May be in summer study.
SB1263/HB1309. Hamilton County. This would have put all municipal and county public notices in Hamilton County on local government websites. Originally requested by the City of Chattanooga, and joined by resolution of other local government bodies, it was touted as a money-saving measure. It was referred to Summer Study in the Senate by Sen. Bo Watson.
SB772/HB1115. Sample ballots. Bill was a package of election administration changes that included eliminating one of the two separate publications of sample ballots before an election. Second sample ballot restored in the final budget amendment.
SB55/HB1214. Annexation notices. Another measure by Sen. Campfield would remove the requirement that plans by municipalities to annex new territory be published in a newspaper. The House sponsor, Rep. Steve Hall of Knoxville, said his intent was to add a direct mail notice to affected property owners, not replace current notice requirements with first class mail that could miss some interested parties. Hall amended the bill in the House to correct the oversight.
Four proposed constitutional amendments included language that said the “publication” requirement notifying citizens of a proposed constitutional amendment could be satisfied by simply posting the proposed amendment on the Secretary of State website. It was changed to neutral language.

Leave a Reply