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Monday, November 19, 2007

Let the sunshine in

State Rep. Jill Chambers, R-DeKalb, concedes that her upcoming bill to strengthen penalties for open-records scofflaws will probably not make it to the House floor in as tough a form as it is now. As proposed, the bill, which CL wrote about here, would make intentional violations of the state open-records laws a felony. That's likely wishful thinking, Chambers announced today at a work session for the bill that attracted a collection of news reporters, state lawyers and representatives from the GBI, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

"The felony provision probably won't survive the legislative process," she said. "But it served to get people's attention."

Chambers would like to shoot for making violations at least a high and aggravated misdemeanor, but she said she wouldn't sit by and watch her bill gutted by lawmakers who want to preserve the status quo of wrist-slaps for state departments and elected officials who brazenly defy sunshine laws. Currently, the highest fine the state imposes for withholding public information is $500.

"If this bill gets hijacked or weakened too much, I'll pull it and kill it," Chambers said. "We want to err on the side of open records."

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