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Sunshine Week: Promoting Transparency in Government

Idaho laws grant the public access to government records and meetings. (joevare/Flickr)
Idaho laws grant the public access to government records and meetings. (joevare/Flickr)
March 12, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – The transparency and openness of government is in the spotlight this Sunshine Week.

Events around the country, led in large part by journalists, are touting the virtues of public access to records and meetings.

Betsy Russell reports from the Idaho Capitol for The Spokesman-Review and also is the founder of Idahoans for Openness in Government. She says casting light on the workings of government is vital for America’s democracy to run properly.

"We rely on citizens to be able to participate in their government, to be engaged and informed citizens, and in order for them to be able to do that, they've got to know what their government is doing," she states.

Russell says leaders in the state Legislature from both parties will be gathering with reporters and the Idaho Press Club at a luncheon on Tuesday. She says the timing of the luncheon is appropriate not only because it's Sunshine Week, but also because there are a few bills moving through the Legislature that take small steps toward improving open records and open meeting laws.

Russell says barriers remain to a transparent government in Idaho. Chief among the concerns is officials knowing which laws are on the books.

She says her organization has been holding seminars with the state attorney general across Idaho, educating people on those laws since 2004.

But she also mentions that last week, a state Senate committee held an impromptu meeting not open to the public on a bill pertaining to the medical use of cannabis extracts.

"We held an illegal, closed meeting in a Senate committee that caused quite a bit of controversy and I'm sure will be a topic of discussion, and it is definitely a worthy topic for a Sunshine Week event," she states.

The committee chairman, Sen. Lee Heider (R-Twin Falls), has since apologized for violating Idaho Senate rules.

While Russell says the state's open records and open meeting laws function well, the state lags in other areas.
Idaho is one of only two states without a law requiring personal financial disclosures for any elected or appointed officials.

The state also does not have any laws preventing people from going directly into lobbying from public service.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID