A new survey ranks Iowa in the bottom half of states in providing government information on-line. "Freedom of Information" advocates looked at government websites in every state, checking for 20 different kinds of public records, things like death certificates, disciplinary actions against lawyers and doctors – even nursing home inspections. The State of Iowa posted only 10 or the 20 records the group considers most helpful to the public.
The legislature may soon create a searchable database to track state spending and tax rates. House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines says there’s a better than 50/50 chance the legislature will pass a bill that calls for that information to be posted on-line. "There’s, I think, a consensus to do something to improve government openness and transparency," McCarthy says. "It’s now just a matter of getting consensus between the key players in the house and the senate."
Another bill pending in the 2009 Iowa Legislature would increase the penalties for public officials who violate the state’s open meetings and open records laws.
According to McCarthy, he’s heard more from the press than the public on this issue. "The press is probably the number one constituency for it. I generally, to be very frank with you — in fact, I’ve never been lobbied by a citizen on the issue," McCarthy says, " but I have been lobbied by members of the media."
This, by the way, is "Sunshine Week" and media groups use the time to promote transparency in government. The Freedom of Information Committee and other media groups rank Iowa 31st in government openness. One of the bills pending in the Iowa Legislature would create a new state commission to oversee public complaints about a lack of government openness. A similar proposal died in the 2008 Iowa legislature.