EDITORIAL: Legislature may change access to public information

Jan. 14—The Legislature may make changes this session to your access to what government does.

Access to public records may change. Access to public meetings may change.

It might be cheaper to get some records from government, if Senate Bill 160 passes.

All requests by the news media would be treated as in the public interest. And all public bodies would be eventually required to reduce fees by 40% if a request is made in the public interest and by between 50% and 100% if the request is in the public interest and narrowly tailored.

Charging fees for public records can block people from getting them, so we are pleased to see the Legislature looking at reducing fees.

Why not make all public records free? Why isn't it part of the job of government to freely distribute public information? Charging for public information is like saying only people with money deserve access to it.

And we are also honored as journalists that the bill would have government automatically determine that what journalists are requesting is in the public interest. That does effectively make a journalist's request superior to a request from another member of the public. We are not sure that is right.

Another interesting change proposed is to how labor negotiations are conducted between government and unions.

As the law is today, those negotiations are in public — unless both sides request the negotiations be behind closed doors. Senate Bill 709 would make the negotiations open to the public and require that the public be notified. We like this change. We think it is only fair that the public see the negotiations over how public money will be spent.

The last one we will highlight is House Bill 2947. This one is very journalistically selfish of us. It would require a public body when meeting in executive session to allow members of the media to attend remotely. Members of the news media can already attend executive sessions, but can't report the details of what happened. The news media is there as watchdogs to ensure governments don't do things behind closed doors that they are not supposed to do. This bill would make it easier for journalists to do that.