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Open more governor’s records to public scrutiny, PAR says

In the 2008 and 2009 legislative sessions, the list of records relating to the work of the governor that could be kept off-limits to the public was expanded. This session, proposals are being considered that would reverse some of those changes and create a more open and transparent governor’s office.

Both the House and Senate will consider bills that would make available many of the records that have been recently shielded, despite opposition from the administration. SB 593 and HB 307 will likely be heard in their respective committees this week.

After the 2008 changes were made, the law protected from public view all records (except certain financial records) prepared by or on behalf of the governor. This protection extended far beyond the governor’s office into every state agency and department. Changes made in 2009 narrowed the exception somewhat but kept in place the following exceptions:

1) Records relating to the deliberative process, which includes any record used to help the governor make a decision or set policy;

2) Records regarding pre-decisional advice and recommendations to the governor concerning budgeting, no matter which executive branch agency (headed by an unclassified appointee) holds them. This protection expires six months after the record is created;

3) Communications with internal staff, defined as chief of staff, executive counsel and director of policy and employees under their supervision; and

4) Records relating to the governor’s security and schedule and his family’s security and schedule.

In the ongoing struggle to achieve more openness in the office of the governor, SB 593 and HB 307 generally aim to set reasonable limits on the existing exceptions in order to maximize public access while protecting only the most sensitive documents.

Both bills would eliminate the exception for records specifically concerning budgeting while continuing a limited protection for records relating to pre-decisional decision making. Both bills also would narrow all remaining exceptions by prohibiting them from being applied to other state agencies and departments outside of the governor’s office.

While some limited records exceptions for the governor may be in order, the ones that are currently in law are overly broad and should be corrected this session before citizen confidence in government is further eroded.

Current law stifles debate on major decisions by keeping important and useful information out of public view. The reports and analyses that help officials determine the effectiveness of programs and the prudence, human impact and feasibility of major changes are as useful to the public as they are to officials and should not be kept secret. Citizens need maximum access to information if they are to have any chance of influencing decisions or understanding proposed policy and budget changes.



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