By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Republican lawmaker who last year backed off a bill that would have allowed local officials to hold more closed-door meetings has renewed the effort, saying he’s asked county commissioners to bring him a proposal that has a chance of passing a key subcommittee.
Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin has a bill scheduled before the House State Government Subcommittee on Tuesday that could be amended to address local government officials’ call for a bill to allow them to meet privately as long as a quorum isn’t present.
Williamson County Commissioner Bob Barnwell, who also spearheaded a similar attempt last year, has written to local government colleagues around the state urging them to encourage state lawmakers to pass such a measure.
Casada told The Associated Press on Thursday that he advised commissioners a bill in that form won’t pass the subcommittee. He didn’t specify what changes should be made, but said he’s “still negotiating.”
“I’ve urged them to bring me something that the subcommittee can support,” he said. “Right now, I don’t have anything.”
Current law forbids two or more members of a local legislative body from meeting privately to deliberate on public business. It does not ban officials from speaking to each other during chance encounters or from having other conversations.
But Barnwell notes in the letter that the law does not apply to the General Assembly.
“The goal of this legislation is to make the Open Meetings Laws as consistent as possible for all elected officials whether state and local,” he said.
Kent Flanagan, director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, has called the effort “misguided.”
“It guts the essence of what Sunshine Law is all about, which is doing the public’s business in public,” he said.
TCOG is a nonprofit alliance of citizen, professional and media groups, including The Associated Press. The group is committed to promoting government transparency.
Last year, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the speakers of the House and Senate expressed reservations about the effort to change the law, and the bill was withdrawn early in the session.
House Speaker Beth Harwell said she still has concerns and plans to talk to Casada.
“I’m very cautious about changing a … law that I think really has benefited the citizens,” said the Nashville Republican. “I’m not very favorable toward it right now, but I’ll talk to him.”
Efforts to get county commissions to endorse changing the law succeeded in three counties in 2011, but failed in at least five others before the bill was withdrawn in the Legislature.