The Iowa legislature has voted to create a new state agency to investigate complaints about city and county governments that fail to comply with Iowa’s open meetings and open records laws. Senator Daryl Beall, a Democrat from Fort Dodge, said it took six years to get consensus on the legislation.
“You know, I’ve never understood people who want to conduct the people’s business and then go behind closed doors to conduct it,” Beall said.
Senator David Johnson, a Republican from Ocheyedan, said the Iowa Public Information Board will be able to help local officials understand the law, too.
“I just want to emphasize: this is not about the media,” Johnson said. “This is about the public’s right to know.”
However, lawmakers voted to let email and other government documents remain private during the drafting stage. Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, said a lot of people don’t realize that under current law, those documents are a public record immediately.
“Under the change…those drafts or speculative materials would become a public record when it is submitted to the decision makers for action,” Jochum said. Critics say that will give the public less time to review proposed changes before a city council or county board takes a vote on the proposal.
The Senate voted 49-0 this afternoon to send the bill to the governor’s desk. Branstad this morning said this new agency will have the power to enforce the “sunshine” law and fine habitual violators.
“That’s something that most other states have and I believe we should have in the State of Iowa as well,” Branstad said.
A new, nine-member board will be created to oversee the agency. The board will have three representatives from the media; three officials from local governments and three citizens.
AUDIO of Senate debate this afternoon on SF430.