ZACHARY: Hiding state business should be illegal – Valdosta Daily Times


ZACHARY: Hiding state business should be illegal – Valdosta Daily Times

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Why should state government be any less open than the county, city or board of education? 

It makes no sense whatsoever that the Georgia General Assembly exempts itself from the state’s Sunshine Laws.

State government requires local governments to be transparent and conduct all the people’s business out in the open.

What’s right for county commissions, city councils and boards of education is right for the Georgia General Assembly. If not, why not? 

Unfortunately for the people of Georgia, over the years it has been quite obvious state lawmakers are not going to make themselves subject to open government laws simply because they do not want to be held to the same standards of transparency they require of local government.

To be fair, the vast majority of House and Senate committee meetings are held out in the open and are even live streamed for the public. So there seems to be a clear understanding the public and an interest in — if not a right to — the deliberations of the General Assembly. 

So why not codify rights of access?

Why not enshrine the public’s right to know?

The reality is that when a small or even a much larger group of representatives or senators want to deliberate in private, behind closed doors, they do. And, no one can do anything about because the practice is not illegal in the state of Georgia. 

All government — including state government — belongs to the people.

All the business transacted by government — including the Georgia General Assembly — is the people’s business.

The women and men we elect to state office should never be able to conceal public business by not providing full access to documents and records or by meeting behind closed doors.

Every branch and every level of government — including the Georgia General Assembly — should be transparent and accessible. 

Our government is only of, by and for the people when it is out in front of the people.

A clandestine government operating in the shadows is dangerous for democracy. 

The Georgia General Assembly should end its exception to the state’s Sunshine Laws.

Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, CHHI’s director of newsroom training and development and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.