The Iowa Senate has approved legislation that updates Iowa’s open meetings and open records laws which were written more than 25 years ago. The bill covers everything from email written by elected officials to financial dealings between the state and quasi-government agencies like the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium where managers are accused of drawing inflated salaries.
"This is a commitment I think this legislature made, really, on the heels of this CIETC scandal," says Senator Mike Connolly, a Democrat from Dubuque. "It took us a couple of years, but I’m hopeful we can get this bill through the legislature this year."
The bill increases the penalties for public officials who violate Iowa’s open meetings and open records laws. It also seeks to crackdown on city councils and other government boards which have some members meet privately in groups to talk, deliberations critics say violate the spirit of the law’s intention to have such discussions made in public.
Senator Jeff Angelo, a Republican from Creston, argues the bill is flawed because its provisions apply only to local government in Iowa, not to the state legislature. "Wouldn’t that take this bill from being viewed by the people of Iowa as offering a ray of sunshine and in fact cast some shadow of suspicion over our open operations here at the General Assembly?" Angelo says.
Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, agrees. "What’s good for the goose is good for the gander and I think in this case to do anything differently disrespects the people who work in public service throughout our state," McCoy says.
Senator Connolly defends the practice of Democrats and Republicans in the legislature meeting in private to discuss political strategy. "I think the United States government and I would say this Iowa government is probably the most open in the world," Connolly says. "We have the fourth estate there watching us every day and reporting on what we do."
Angelo’s bid to expand some of the bill’s openness provisions to the legislature failed on a 27 to 22 vote. The main bill then passed on a 43 to six vote.