Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Georgia's new sunshine law proposal gives state lawmakers a pass

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2011 at 1:49 PM

For years, Georgia lawmakers have enjoyed a bizarre exemption from the state's open records and meetings laws.

Want to know what e-mails senators and reps are trading with lobbyists? File an open records request.

You'll most likely receive a nice letter from the Gold Dome saying something along the lines of "Thanks for asking, but the General Assembly doesn't have to comply with your request." The Georgia Supreme Court ruled In the mid-1970s that, because of separation of powers, the Legislature established its own rules and was therefore exempt from the state's sunshine laws. ("If the House, the Senate, or both want to let the sun shine more brilliantly and more pervasively upon their deliberations and actions, they can do so by adopting rules and procedures applicable to their operations that will accomplish this purpose," the majority wrote.)

That won't change under a sweeping 126-page revision of the state's sunshine laws unveiled yesterday by Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens. The bill, which is being carried by state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, includes stiffer fines for government agencies that violate the Open Meetings and Records acts — but also offers new exemptions to the law. (The Associated Press' Greg Bluestein has a solid look at the legislation's pros and cons.)

When asked by CL why Olens didn't seek to change the provision exempting lawmakers, a spokeswoman yesterday offered this candid response:

There are numerous proposals we could have made, but we are interested in the law passing.

Hey, at least they're honest. Can anyone offer a reason why the General Assembly shouldn't have to follow the state's sunshine laws?

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