A proposal on creating a fine for officials who knowingly obstruct access to public records has been delayed until Wednesday, though another proposal to defer all action to a committee and have it report back next February is likely to trump the bill itself.
The "Sunshine In Government Improvement Act of 2006" has minimal support, sadly. Fears that it will hamper business as usual and deter potential candidates for office are often cited.
The proposed committee to "study" the issue would include members of the TN Press Association, TN Association of Broadcasters, League of Women Voters, The TN Muncipal League, TN Coalition for Open Government as well as elected officials. Interesting too, that this proposal includes these comments acknowledging the lack of ability in providing access to records:
"WHEREAS, Tennesseans get no assistance in navigating and enforcing complex open government laws and rules; and
WHEREAS, a statewide survey of public records compliance in 95 counties showed that many public employees lack training and knowledge about the rights of citizens under Tennessee’s open government laws and transparency mandates of the General Assembly;and
WHEREAS a recent survey of newspaper reports by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government showed complaints of alleged open meeting law violations increased 45% between 2003 and 2005; and
WHEREAS, a series of appellate court decisions since 1976 have upheld and further defined these citizen rights under the Tennessee Constitution, they are nowhere reflected in statutes to better serve the citizens of the state ...."
If such a committee is approved by legislators - will their meetings and discussions be open to the public? Will the TPA and TAB report on the discussions? Or is this an effort to assign a committee to drain away the current attention placed on the rights of citizens?