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 Wally Roberts, Common Cause Vermont
For the fourth year in a row, an attempt to reform Vermont’s campaign finance law failed, as political maneuvering, this time under the guise of observing the niceties of parliamentary procedures, killed the bill in the final days of the session.
The bill, including an amendment which would have banned contributions from corporations, was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the motion of its chair, Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, because, he said, the bill “raise(s) constitutional issues.’ Sears acknowledged that the bill had no chance of emerging from his committee in the seven days left in the session.
An assistant attorney general had testified earlier in the year that her office saw no constitutional problems with the original bill. The amendment banning corporate contributions, sponsored by former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith (D-Windham) was modeled on the federal Tillman Act of 1907, the constitutionality of which has been repeatedly upheld.
Corruption news for Vermont, from the Burlington Free Press:
Given this economic picture it's no surprise Vermont has seen an increase in property crimes and theft lately. These crimes are often tied to drug use and drug addiction, and it doesn't take much imagination to see a correlation between increased drug use and the feelings of desperation caused by a broken economy.
More puzzling, though, are several high-profile embezzlement cases we've seen around the state. These folks have jobs! With headlines declaring we have an embezzlement epidemic it seems likely the Legislature will look for ways to curb the problem. But how?
We can't legislate decency. We can't legislate good behavior.
Read the rest of the story at the Burlington Free Press.
The week after the Vermont Supreme Court heard arguments over whether a town’s property tax adjustment records are public information, a legislative study committee came down on the side of making the records public. Lawmakers also considered whether the University of Vermont and state colleges will continue to enjoy broad exemptions from the public records act, clarification of health care exemptions, and broad review of what type of personal information the state shall keep confidential.
Committee members spent the most time on a broad exemption to the public records law for the University of Vermont and state colleges for records relating to “study, research or creative efforts on medical, scientific, technical, scholarly, or artistic matters.”
Read the rest of the story at Vermont Digger.