PRESIDENT’S COLUMN: Holding leaders accountable, fighting for public records, and planning a banquet….

Betsy RussellBy Betsy Russell

This has been a busy time for the Idaho Press Club. Our Southwest Chapter has hosted two excellent and well-attended “Headliner” events, the first a breakfast gathering with Gov. Butch Otter and the second a luncheon with House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill.

Both opened with brief remarks from our guests, followed by an on-the-record Q-and-A session with press club members. Both were highly newsy, and resulted in lots of information and insight into what’s going on in Idaho’s current legislative session and our state government and politics.

We owe thanks to Southwest Chapter President Clark Corbin and his able board for organizing these events, at which the food was also very good!

Our First Amendment Committee, under the leadership of Chair Rebecca Boone, has been meeting weekly during the session to review legislation related to open meetings and public records, and we’ve had many challenges this year, with lots of proposals to shut down access to various public records and processes. Our committee’s negotiations with House GOP leadership have thus far succeeded in halting a major expansion of secrecy regarding legislators’ emails, and we appreciate the leadership’s willingness to hear us out on this. We’re hopeful the House will enact a single-custodian rule for public records requests this year, as the Senate did several years ago, easing the administrative and logistical burden both on requesters and individual lawmakers.

We had a nice win recently, when House-passed legislation that would have vastly expanded a public records exemption for government infrastructure ran into trouble in a Senate committee in part because of points we raised, along with others; a stakeholders’ group was convened, and consensus amendments written that were acceptable to all sides, including us. The Senate has now unanimously approved the amendment and we look forward to the amended bill passing, a major improvement over the original, which we felt would be highly damaging to the Public Records Law.

Our contest committee is carrying a heavy load these days, and Co-Chair Melissa Davlin in particular has been working very hard to coordinate all the judging for the various categories, which is a giant task. In return for out-of-state journalism organizations helping judge our contest, we agree to help judge theirs; when Melissa comes asking for your help in judging another state’s journalism contest, please say yes!

Our banquet committee, under the leadership of Deanna Darr, is working hard on what’s looking to be a fun banquet April 30 at which we can celebrate the best in Idaho journalism, and also get a chance to visit, mingle, dress up and enjoy a fine meal and drinks. Please mark your calendar for Saturday, April 30; it’ll be at the Owyhee in downtown Boise. See details elsewhere in this issue!

Things aren’t going to get any less busy. It’s an election year, so many of us will be busy covering the contests; the Press Club as usual will be co-sponsoring debates in top contested races with Idaho Public Television.

Thanks to everyone for all your hard work, both at work holding our leaders accountable and telling the truth, and on the side for your longstanding non-profit trade association representing Idaho journalists from all media, the Idaho Press Club.

Betsy Russell is a Boise-based reporter for The Spokesman-Review, and is the president of the Idaho Press Club.