The Iowa Senate has given final approval to a bill that would toss public officials out of office if they are convicted — twice — of violating Iowa’s open meetings and open records law. Senator Patricia Ward, a Republican from West Des Moines, says under current law, a public official doesn’t get tossed out of office until he or she has racked up three convictions on open government violations. “Currently, it’s pratically impossible to convict a public official three times in one term of office for violating open meetings and open records law,” Ward says. “This (bill) lowers the bar so that if they’re convicted in a court of law two times for violating, they are out of office.” Ward says she doesn’t know of anyone who has been convicted more than once of this kind of open meetings or open records violation. Ward says the legislation will hopefully “heighten” the awareness of the importance of Iowa’s sunshine laws. Ward says “adding some teeth” to the law makes officials more aware of the importance of allowing the public to have input into the decision-making process. Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, was one of three senators who voted against the bill. Courtney’s first preference was to kick someone out of office after just one conviction of violating Iowa’s open meetings and open records law. “If we’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly,” Courtney says. “If you honestly believe that people are going to violate (the openness law) and they ought to be out of office, probably one’s enough and they ought to be out of ofice.” Another of Courtney’s objections to the bill is the cost of an election if an official is thrown out of office. “A community is going to have to pay for that by themselves,” Courtney says. One of his other beefs is that the person who is thrown out of office could run again, and win back that office. “You could be in a situation where someone could bring a beef against the mayor, for instance, they could wind up going to court and he could wind up being thrown out of office and they could have another election — cost $5,000 or $10,000 — he could run and get re-elected,” Courtney says. “What kind of silly thing is that?” Governor Tom Vilsack will soon have to decide whether to sign or veto the bill.
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