Thursday, April 18, 2019

Lawmakers Hit, Missed, Delayed Bills on Open Government This Year

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 2:19 PM

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Several bills before the Tennessee General Assembly were aimed at government transparency this year. Some hit. Some missed. One was sent out for some of that famous “summer study.”

All of this information comes from the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG), a group that (you guessed it) advocates for government transparency here. A recent roundup of bills found moves on “harassing” records requesters, economic development deals, and 911 calls.

“Harassment”

A bill was delayed this year that would have stopped records requesters from making further requests if a judge found the requests made a records custodian “be seriously abused, intimidated, threatened, or harassed.”

The bills' sponsors, Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland) and Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) said the bill was filed at the request of city of Gallatin. Officials there said they’d been overwhelmed by requests from one requester.

An amendment to the bill gave a pass to journalists as requests for the purposes of broadcasting, publishing, or distributing information to others could not constitute harassment.

The sponsors delayed the bill until 2020.

No Deal (Information)


Economic development trumps transparency in Tennessee, according to a report in MuckRock.

Lawmakers shot down a bill that would have made public more information about government-led economic development deals.

From the story written by Kent Hoover:

“Under current law, economic development officials disclose information about grants awarded to companies who open corporate headquarters, manufacturing plants, data centers, or select other facilities in the state.

But they don’t disclose who gets the millions of dollars in tax credits the state offers these companies, nor what the state gets in return for these investments in terms of new jobs and capital expenditures. Tax information about specific companies is confidential under state law.”

A bill would have made public what companies got tax breaks, where they are located, how many jobs they create, and how much money they spend on machinery and other capital investments.

The bill was spurred by Gov. Bill Lee’s call for more transparency in government, according to the story. But it met push back from economic development officials who said the bills would make Tennessee less competitive for deals.

911

Lawmakers wanted to make 911 calls and transmission confidential, but the bill was pulled as the sponsor wanted more time to study the issue over the issue.

The bill would have made calls open only to law enforcement, courts, and other governmental agencies.

The Tennessee Press Association and Tennessee Association of Broadcasters lobbied against the bill, pointing out that access to 911 calls have led to numerous news stories uncovering problems within the 911 system.

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