See Through Government
written by Laramie:
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Laramie at
Ken Bunting wrote an article, with the above title, in a local newspaper that might make some people a bit nervous about how much our legislators want us to know about what they are doing in the name of representing their constituency.
According to Mr. Bunting, over half of state legislatures have passed laws that hold themselves much less accountable in their behavior than they hold others. In Utah, newly passed laws allow the residents less access to information about what the state legislatures are doing than citizens of Australia, Ireland, Mexico and Albania. The lawmakers in Utah may no longer be subject to their own open records laws. Their reasoning follows along the lines of "We get too many time consuming, privacy invading requests for records", and so they could discourage requests for information with high copying charges and unexplained delays.
In Tennessee, advocates of open government are fighting the withholding of 911 communication records, and of letting local officials decide how much information they give out on tax breaks and enticements for economic programs that the law makers receive. Just how much do lawmakers get from lobbyists?
In Maine, a governor who promised open government established a committee where closed meetings will be held. Virginia is faced with a proposal that allows state agencies to get anti-harassment court orders against information seekers who complain that they can't find out what is going on in government. Ohio university presidents want to make their own rules regarding release of "sensitive" school information. A Maryland proposal wants to allow state agencies to erase data they don't want circulated, and to set their own rate of charges for any information that might be released. And of course, in the ongoing Wisconsin protests over union rights, we wonder if the right to bargain in good faith will be outlawed in what is believed to be a very politically motivated environment.
No one would argue that there is legitimate debate on both sides over what the public should know and what should be held back, whether it is in the name of national security, or protecting the innocent, or due to the ages of those involved, or secret troop movements in time of war, or whatever. These issues will probably not go away, but in an era when many citizens have a lack of faith and trust in government anyway, is this current trend, to cloak government activity, in the best interests of the common good, especially if the information denied is not crucial to sensitive areas like those named above, and perhaps other areas? A line in an award winning Hollywood movie is, "That don't make no sense." And that surely applies here. In a democratic society, the people have to know what their elected officials are doing, what they are voting for or against, what laws they are proposing, how they are spending the tax revenue given them by the people, and how special interests and lobbying influence some legislation. Or maybe many law makers are subscribing to a quote of a very famous baseball player, where in a locker room motivation speech he says, "Listen up, I have nothing to say, and I'm only going to say it once." Maybe the truth is that legislatures want to carry out their own agenda with little or no oversight by the people they represent. They just don't want to carry on their work in a transparent setting, where evidence of their work, or lack thereof, is available to all, where the truth of the dealings they make is easy to discover. Shouldn't the days when deals are made by self serving "bosses", in closed, smoke-filled back rooms, be a thing of the past? Let's not let them bring those days back.
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