John Dorso: Don't Limit Lawmaker Access To Records

I was out of commission for most of last week but I was very interested in SB 2222 (concerning open records requests) as introduced by Senator Flakoll.  The only way I could find the text was to go to Senator Flakoll and look at bills he introduced, the normal search engine didn’t bring it up.

I was taken aback when I discovered who the cosponsors of the legislation were.  I can’t understand nor justify the bill.  Your legislature is the people’s branch of government as was taught to us by our mentors many years ago.  As such I look with a critical eye on any legislation that has to do with the legislature and specifically any which limits the legislature’s or legislator’s activities.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”If anyone was to blame for the debacle over the requested records it should be laid at the feet of SBHE.  If Flakoll wants to punish somebody he should be drafting a bill that increases penalties for people who flaunt the states open records laws.”[/mks_pullquote]

If the justification for this insanity is that legislators were trying to get information from the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education, its office, or the administrators of universities, who they had very little reason to believe would be forthcoming, it is a poor one at best.  If it is because it might cost some money to be in compliance I’ll submit that those named above have very little to go on.  Let us face it the board and the administrators have proven, as found by the Attorney General, that there is hardly a reason to trust them when it comes to open meeting and records laws.  Who really believes Bresciani’s 500 plus emails just disappeared.

If you believe that you believe the IRS isn’t covering up for Lois Lerner.  In fact the Inspector General of the US has found the IRS concealed pertinent information 336 times.  I can certainly see why legislators at the state and federal level have very little faith in some bureaucrats complying with duly enacted laws at both levels of government.  SBHE, IRS or any government agency deserves the treatment they would like to call “fishing expeditions” if we can’t trust them to follow the law.

If anyone was to blame for the debacle over the requested records it should be laid at the feet of SBHE.  If Flakoll wants to punish somebody he should be drafting a bill that increases penalties for people who flaunt the states open records laws.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”I believe that the fear legislators may uncover nefarious acts of those in other branches of government by having the ability to access information covered under the open records and meeting laws is one of those prerogatives the public should be very protective of.”[/mks_pullquote]

If the leadership of the legislature thinks there was an abuse of legislative privilege it has a lot of ways to deal with it without putting something in statute.  The laws of North Dakota are not the way to deal with legislative operations.  First of all during the session legislative leaders have a number of ways to deal with legislators who may be operating outside of acceptable protocol.  I know because I had to do it a few times when I was leader.

Second when the legislature isn’t in session there is the Legislative Management Committee which in large part is controlled by the legislative leaders as is only fit and proper.  If the leaders have a problem such as contemplated in this bill they can deal with it at that level without going to this extreme.  It is a legislative leader’s job to deal with these issues not put them in the law books.

I believe that the fear legislators may uncover nefarious acts of those in other branches of government by having the ability to access information covered under the open records and meeting laws is one of those prerogatives the public should be very protective of.  I also believe that legislators should give this bill the treatment it deserves and dispose of it as quickly as possible.  The longer it hangs around the deeper the cancer will grow.   As the old saying goes “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”.  No agency of government should ever think that a financial constraint might stop an investigation.  If that were the case you can bet that most requests would be met with a fiscal note that puts a financial burden on the legislator or the legislature itself and that dear citizen is ridiculous.

I have tried to be circumspect when dealing with issues I think should be dealt with in the respective leaders offices but at this point I’m totally mystified.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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