Senator Accuses House Lawmakers Of "Fouling The Pool" With Records Requests

SB2222 is a bill introduced by Senator Tim Flakoll, a Republican from Fargo and employee of the North Dakota University System. In its original form the bill would have made public records requests from lawmakers made through Legislative Council an open record (currently lawmakers enjoy anonymity), and it also would have put a $5,000 cap on the cost of open records. Over that lawmakers would have had to pay for records out of their own pockets unless the request was approved by a legislative committee.

As I wrote previously the bill has since been watered down with an amendment and now only includes the provision that lawmaker requests be public.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]”It’s like being in the pool and someone ar the far end fouls the pool,” he said specifically stating that it was requests from the House chamber, and not the Senate chamber, which he perceives as the problem.[/mks_pullquote]

That version of the bill passed the state Senate today on a 44-3 vote (Senators Joe Miller, R-Park River, Oley Larsen, R-Minot, and Randy Burckhard, R-Minot, were the “no” votes).

Speaking in favor of the bill, Senator Flakoll was not complimentary of some titanic open records requests that have been filed in the last couple of years. “It’s like being in the pool and someone ar the far end fouls the pool,” he said specifically stating that it was requests from the House chamber, and not the Senate chamber, which he perceives as the problem.

Speaking against the bill, Miller said suggested that this would make lawmakers vulnerable to intimidation when they make requests for information.

“Are we going to have public shaming?” he asked during the floor debate. “ARe they going to be shamed into retracting their requests?”

“This is about proper oversight and getting the right information,” he added suggesting lawmakers might “get publicly shamed or strong-armed by a leader” for making an unpopular records request.

I’m inclined to agree with Miller. I can understand Flakoll’s concern about unreasonable requests for public records filed by some lawmakers. I’m a staunch proponent of government transparency, but even I’ve felt some of the requests have been excessive. But on the flip side of the coin, given the belittling treatment some lawmakers have received at the hands of the media and other public officials as a result of their requests, I think the privacy lawmakers get in making their records requests is necessary.

I’m willing to risk some lawmakers getting carried away with their requests, and costing the taxpayers money, than I am willing to risk lawmakers being afraid to ask for information on politically-charged issues.

Let’s hope the House kills this.

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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