Several States Rushing to Close Openness Laws
Open-government laws continue to face threats from limits on access to information for the second year in a row. Last year, 21 states passed measures to limit public access to information that was deemed sensitive. This year, 15 states have considered similar legislation, with 5 states passing laws that restrict public access to documents or meetings.Civil libertarians, news media, and public interest groups are concerned that this type of legislation would restrict access to much more than security information. Wanda Cash, president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas believes “there’s just too much of an assault on our freedoms, and on our access to government, and on the accountability of government.”
State proposals under consideration include:
- A bill in Ohio that would allow the state health director to hide records from state disease and illness investigations.
- A Nevada proposal that would permit the governor to keep documents relating to terrorist prevention and response plans secret.
- Vermont has a proposal that would restrict public access to architects’ plans for buildings.
Even though many of these proposals will not increase citizen’s safety they remain difficult to counter and defeat. Last year in Arkansas, Republican Governor Mike Huckabee opposed legislation that would make a list of materials, including threat assessments and training plans secret. This year, the state’s police chiefs got the law passed. Right-to-know advocates are attempting to work out compromises with state legislators, but will continue to face tough challenges as these measures surface.