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A loophole-ridden public records law and weak campaign contribution limits pull down Iowa’s integrity score. Read more from SII State Reporter Stephen J. Berry.
By Caitlin Ginley
Early last month, lawmakers in Iowa completed work on a new open records statute. Senate File 430 creates the Iowa Public Information Board, a nine-member commission charged with enforcing the state’s open records and meetings laws.
For good government advocates in the Hawkeye State, the new legislation was cause for celebration — sort of.
Indeed, there were smiles all around as Gov. Terry Branstad signed the law on May 3 in the ornate Capitol Building, surrounded by lawmakers and journalists — many of whom spent six years on the effort. And the law is undoubtedly a victory of sorts for open government in the state, where enforcement was spotty at best, divided among several local and state entities. If a citizen’s request for information was denied, the only option was to sue — a time-consuming and costly course of action. Now, the Board can investigate complaints and bring them to court on citizens’ behalf.
It all sounds good — except for the fine print.
By Caitlin Ginley, Center for Public Integrity
Iowa’s only F grade on the State Integrity Investigation was in the category of public access to information, partly due to a lack of strong enforcement measures.
But Governor Terry Branstad signed a bill last week that would create the Iowa Public Information Board, a nine-member commission that will oversee and enforce the state’s open records laws. The governor noted that the lack of enforcement was highlighted by the State Integrity Investigation and affected Iowa’s overall grade. Iowa ranked 7th among the 50 states and earned an overall grade of C+.
“Hopefully this will move us up from [C+] to a better grade,” Branstad said at the signing on May 3.
State integrity news for Iowa, from the Iowa City Press Citizen:
Before a bill signing ceremony Thursday, individual Iowans had few options for forcing public officials to turn over those public records. Citizens could call the county attorney or the state attorney general — but those attorneys seldom prosecuted even clear violations of those laws.
Citizens could contact the state’s Office of Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman, but ombudsman staff didn’t have the authority to ensure compliance of the law. So, in far too many cases, open government disputes didn’t get resolved until someone had the time, money and determination necessary to file a lawsuit.
Read the rest of the story at the Iowa Press Citizen.
State integrity news for Iowa, from the Iowa Press-Citizen:
In each of those cases, it would have been better if Iowa had had a board in place to investigate the complaints and to ensure compliance of the law without any conflicts of interest. And that’s why we’re thrilled the Iowa House of Representatives recently (and overwhelmingly!) passed a bill that would create a state public information board able to do just that.
This is the first year that both legislative houses have taken this huge step forward in correcting the failing grade in government openness that groups like the Center for Public Integrity and the Better Government Association continue to give our state.
Read the rest of the story at the Iowa Press-Citizen.
State integrity news for Iowa, from the Sioux City Journal:
The Iowa House plans to again stream floor debate over the Internet next session, and the Senate is looking into providing similar coverage. Officials in the House said the effort to improve government transparency has been a success, with up to 100 people at a time logged on to monitor debate.
"I think that's one reason you see fewer people in the gallery, because they can watch it live from their office," said Chief Clerk of the House Charlie Smithson. "It's had a lot of positive effects in terms of openness and transparency."
Read the rest of the story at the Sioux City Journal.