disinfecting with sunshine

Byline: | Category: Uncategorized | Posted at: Monday, 13 March 2006

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people should also be available to the people.  That’s the point of “sunshine laws”–those laws that prohibit deal-making in secret, smoke-filled rooms.

Tennessee has sunshine laws not just for state government, but also for local governments.  However, those laws have no punishments associated with them.  As a parent, I know better than to make rules without consequences. 

Senator Randy McNally and Representative Joe Fowlkes have sponsored a bill that toughens Tennessee’s sunshine laws.  The bill is not embraced by all.  “Opponents say the proposed legislation goes too far, since the number of violations claimed is actually small, and it could burden local governing bodies and discourage qualified people from serving in public office.”

Well, take it from someone who wishes to serve in public office, that I am not the least bit discouraged from doing so because of this proposed legislation.

UPDATE:  Sunday’s Tennessean advocates passage of the sunshine bill.

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4 Responses to “disinfecting with sunshine”

  1. Johnny Ringo Says:

    Bob, the proposed litigation requires that anyone who is accused of violating the act must prove, by “clear and convincing evidence”, that they did NOT violate the act.

    Aren’t you just a little bit concerned about a law that requires the accused to prove their innocence?

  2. Bob K Says:

    Johnny,
    Here’s the link to the bill: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/bills/currentga/Summary.aspx?BillNumber=SB2471

    The only reference to “clear and convincing evidence” is this: “(3) Any meeting or portion thereof of a public body for the purpose of discussing a pending controversy that, as demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence, will likely result in litigation;”

    Obviously, if it puts the burden on the accused, then I’m concerned. However, I don’t understand the bill’s language to mean the same thing that you apparently do. Help me understand your concern.

    Bob K

  3. Johnny Ringo Says:

    Bob, if you are gonna go into politics for real, you need to learn not to trust the legislative summaries.

    Here’s the full language of the bill: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/bills/currentga/BILL/SB2471.pdf

    Here’s the section that concerns me:

    (j) The burden of proof for justifying any action claimed to be in violation of this
    act shall be upon the governing body of the public body or its members. The justification
    must be proven by clear and convincing evidence.

    Its at the very end of the bill. Under this language, if you as a government official are accused of violating the act, YOU must show that you DIDN’T break the law.

    Again, doesn’t a law which requires the accused to prove his innocence, in contravention of the most basic axiom of justice we are all brought up with – innocent until proven guilty – seem just a bit troubling?

  4. Johnny Ringo Says:

    Oh and by the way, have a look at Section 4 of the act – in it, the legislature codifies an exception to the act that allows public bodies to confer in private with their legal counsel – an exception carved out by the Supreme Court, which stated that the right to consult in private with legal counsel is founded in the Tennessee Constitution. But then the Act adds this little gem:

    (b) Each exemption added by the general assembly shall remain effective for five
    (5) years after its passage. An exemption shall “sunset,” and become void and of no
    effect unless readopted by the General Assembly prior to its “sunset” date. Any current
    exemption to this Act shall expire on July 1, 2007, unless reauthorized by the general
    assembly.

    So the Act pays lip service to the Constitutional right of government officials and agencies to confer with legal counsel, but then makes the continuance of that Constitutional right dependant upon the will of the legislature.

    So we have a bill that requires the accused to prove their innocence, AND makes the Constitional rights of government officials dependant upon legislative largess.

    Interesting?