Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Open Season on Access

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Open Season on Access

Article excerpt

In America's statehouses, defenders of open records gird to battle information mandarins and their politician pals

From sea to shining sea, state legislatures are back in session. They convene in an especially unsettled time. State budgets are hemorrhaging, terrorism's dread lingers as a dull pain, and an uncertain bugle sounds an anthem of war.

The laws and customs that anchor open government in this nation's several states are most at risk when insecure times such as these breed the illusion that if only information and ideas could be rationed to the few and withheld from the many, then our people would be made stronger by their ignorance, more alert by their blinkered vision, more united by their isolation.

So it's testing time for lawmakers who, bills in hand, approach the hoppers on the floors of these statehouses, and for the citizens and Fourth Estate watching from the galleries. Ironically, if the bluffs in blue suits followed their normal instinct to act as political weather vanes, open government would be affirmed in every capital from Maine to Hawaii. For American citizens have already passed their test: In November's elections, they voted for Sunshine and open-records laws whenever they had the choice.

Unfortunately, legislators imagine themselves statesmen at times like these, and in state after state they are filing the same copycat bills to exempt "infrastructure" from open-records laws, to allow everyone from the county hospital to the library board to meet in secret for "emergency response planning," and to permit law enforcement to hide even the most basic arrest and incident reports. …

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