Georgia takes steps towards more open government; could take more

The state of Georgia may improve open government with HB 397. While the steps it takes are welcome, the bill could go farther.

Kay Harris wrote for the VDT today, Georgia AG works to boost Sunshine Laws, quoting State Attorney General Sam Olens:

“The legislature has given the Attorney General’s office the jurisdiction to enforce the Open Records law and this bill will give us the tools to do so.”

Olens said the AG’s office receives an average of 400 complaints each year of Open Records violations by governmental entities in the state. The bill strengthens penalties and gives the AG more tools to use to prosecute violators.

Subsection 50-14-6 changes the fine for knowingly violating the law from $100 to $1,000 and allows the court to impose a civil penalty as well.

The bill also strengthens the guidelines for posting notices on websites and clarifies the rules for social events that may attract a quorum of officials. Also, destroying public records can be prosecuted as a felony.

The bill ( Here’s HB 397 on the legislature’s website) includes some welcome requirements about meeting times and public records officers having to be posted on a body’s website, but builds in a huge loophole:
as well as on the agency’s website, if any
So an agency can avoid all that by just not having a website.

And there’s nothing about requiring agendas and minutes to be posted on a website. Why not add that requirement? Agendas and minutes are pretty much all compiled electronically these days anyway. Convert to PDF and another copy as HTML and stick in a website directory: presto, online agendas and minutes.

If LAKE can do it, all these elected and appointed boards can do it.

Whiie they’re at it, they could take the board packet documents related to each agenda item and put them online, too, like Travis County, Texas does. Travis County even includes videos with the minutes. There’s no reason Lowndes County, Georgia couldn’t do that. And there’s not much good reason for the state of Georgia not to require at least posting agendas with board packet materials followed by minutes, all on the web.


1 thought on “Georgia takes steps towards more open government; could take more

  1. Barbara Stratton

    HB 397 looks good except for the loophole you pointed out. I’m not so sure about SB 176 which was approved by the senate and sent to the GA House last week per Senator Tim Golden’s newsletter:
    “SB 176, which would change the Open Meetings Act to allow governmental agencies to conduct meetings by teleconference under certain circumstances.”
    This bill has the potential to lead to weakening of Open Records and Sunshine Laws or as you say an open loophole. It would be nice if we could trust our elected representatives to protect our constitutional rights instead of having to wonder what special interest is influencing them at the moment. I know our GA Attorney General, Sam Olens, gets a lot of complaints about his strong support of the Open Records Act and Sunshine Laws. Obviously there are those locally and in state and federal levels who prefer to operate in the dark. Many justify this by saying private citizens are not smart enough to know how government should operate so they need to vote and disappear until time to vote again. I did not like hired nannies when I was a child, though I liked them as people, and I don’t like nanny state philosophies as an adult citizen.

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