The Iowa House has passed a bill which would establish another state government commission — this one would study how "open" cities, counties and other government agencies throughout the state are to the public.
The bill passed the House Thursday afternoon without a dissenting vote, but as Representative Scott Raecker of Urbandale pointed out, none of the bill’s provisions directly apply to legislators.
"While this is a great start, moving us in the right direction I would encourage us, as we continue down this road of openness and transparency, that we should examine ourselves," Raecker said.
Representative Mary Mascher of Iowa City said the advisory panel will provide legislators with the "next steps" that should be taken to ensure public access to government records and government meetings.
"I don’t know that there are too many bills out there where we have spent over three years trying to perfect and trying to listen to all sides," Mascher says. "And I think this is one of those efforts and I think it’s been a great one.
"If the bill becomes law, the Iowa Public Information Board will be asked to monitor how complaints from the public about closed meetings or lack of access to government records are handled. The board would meet three times a year and, by January of 2011, the board would be required to submit a report to legislators. Representative Vicki Lensing of Iowa City says "vigilance" is required to improve openness in government.
"We certainly were not able to do everything we wanted. This certainly is not a perfect bill," Lensing says. "It certainly does not encompass everything we wanted, but that’s why we made the list to hand off to the committee."
The Iowa Senate will now consider the proposal. A plan to create a new state agency which would have the authority to police questions of openness in all levels of government failed to pass the 2008 Iowa Legislature and legislators say with a tight state budget, 2009 is not the time to create another state agency.
Click on audio link below to listen to House members discuss the bill.