Open and shut cases of Arizona lawmakers behaving badly: From the Rose Law Group Growlery

transparency_public_rights_to_know_copyPhil Riske | Managing Editor

(Editor’s note: Opinion pieces are published for discussions purposes only.)

I call on Governor Ducey to stop certain legislation and a rule change that would only increase public distrust of the state Legislature.

This will be my 12th year of covering the Legislature full and part-time, and I’ve seen a gradual deterioration of transparency in Arizona government and, thus, nose-thumbing at the news media.

I will let those with more expertise on the situation make my arguments against bills that attempt to skirt open meetings law and the possibility the Republic House might close its caucus to the public.

“All these bills are bad news for Arizona,” Leonard Downie Jr. told Arizona Capitol Times. He also is the Weil Family Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication,

“They sound on the surface reasonable and protecting privacy, but really what this does is allow people to hide bad things from the public,” said Downey, referring to bills introduced this year to make currently public information private, such as withholding the names of lottery winners for 90 days to allow winners time to prepare for public announcements.

“Public officials are always trying to nibble away at freedom of information access because they don’t want to be held accountable,” Downie told Cap Times.

Claiming legislators and former judges and their families are at risk of being harmed, Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Gilbert, is sponsoring a bill to prevent the release of candidate’s addresses if they request it.

Media law attorney Dan Barr, however, told the newspaper, “I think that’s very important that their home address be publicly available so people can check if they actually live in the district.”

David Cuillier, freedom of information chair for the Society of Professional Journalists and director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, said these kinds of bills could give people a false sense of security because information can be found other ways, such as on the Internet, and anyone with a brain can figure out where someone lives.

Closed Caucus

I sat through hours of caucus meetings where lawmakers are told by staff what bills are all about, and debate usually follows. The room is usually packed with lobbyists and reporters. The information that comes from the caucus is valuable to media to understand legislation.

Arizona Capitol Times reports Republican leaders in the House want to be able to meet and discuss legislation in secret closed-doors caucus meetings.

House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro said if Republicans decide to limit access to caucus meetings, which have been televised in the past, they would do transparently.

What? Is that an oxymoron, Mr. Majority Leader?

Montenegro told Cap Times that if the meetings were private, they would be more conducive to honest conversation.

You have to be kidding.

“We all know why we would want to do it. But my concern is the optics. The public doesn’t like it,” Republican Rep. T.J. Shope said in the newspaper article.

And, lawmakers, you are elected by and are to serve that public.

Related: New plan to withhold names in police shootings could lead to further delays

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