Taking some steps forward for openness

By Melissa Davlin

The Idaho media has plenty to celebrate as new laws go into effect on July 1 — both for what the 2018 Legislature passed, and what it didn’t.

Each session, the Idaho Press Club’s First Amendment Committee, which advocates for public records access and open meetings, works with lobbyists and lawmakers on bills that promoted government transparency, and against proposals that go against that spirit of openness.

Here are some highlights from the 2018 session:

  • An expansion of open meeting laws to cover commissions created by executive order. Previously, such commissions weren’t required to post agendas, keep minutes, or notify the public of meeting times. The expansion does not cover the Cybersecurity Task Force or the Idaho Medal of Honor Commission (though in the past, those committees have voluntarily posted agendas and meeting times). Idaho Press Club president Betsy Russell worked on this proposal with other stakeholders, as did our pro bono lobbyist for the Press Club, Skip Smyser.
  • A new requirement that every public entity must appoint a go-to person to deal with public records requests. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mary Souza, would also disclose bonuses, severance packages, and reimbursement paid to public employees.
  • A new requirement that agendas for public meetings must specify which items the committees will vote on by labeling them “action items.”
  • The death of a bill that would repeal a requirement that all legal notices must be published in a newspaper. Idaho Press Club lobbyist Skip Smyser testified against the bill, noting that local newspapers act as a third party verification for public entities and make sure those notices aren’t improperly changed once published. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ron Nate, died in committee.
  • Input on public disclosure on the Respectful Workplace Committee, on which I served as the media representative. In meetings, I argued for as much transparency on harassment complaints at the legislature as possible. The policy has not yet been finalized.

We also worked with lawmakers on legislation dealing with court records to ensure proposed exemptions were narrow as possible. One example: Rep. Paul Amador’s bill on police records and 911 regarding child abuse, which would exempt identifying information on those who call to report abuse.

Though the Legislature adjourned three months ago, the First Amendment Committee is still working for the media on open government issues, petitioning for transparency at school funding formula stakeholder meetings and meeting with media outlets about concerns over public records. We also continue to keep our ear to the ground on upcoming issues that may come up during the 2019 legislative session.

If anyone in your newsroom runs into open meeting or public records issues, don’t hesitate to contact me at melissadavlin@gmail.com.

Melissa Davlin is a producer and host for Idaho Public Television, serves as vice president of the Idaho Press Club’s state board, and chairs our First Amendment Committee.