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State legislature toys with Ohioans' rights



Published: Wed, May 23, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



As the state's biennium budget bill moves through the Ohio General Assembly, this question looms large: Will the final product presented to Gov. Bob Taft contain provisions that enable important legislative documents to be kept from public view?

If the bill does, the people of Ohio should tell Taft that such a brazen violation of the public's right to know is unacceptable.

Two years ago, Senate President Richard Finan, R-Cincinnati, pushed through a similar provision that resulted in the Legislative Service Commission's files being closed to the press and public. Taft refused to veto that particular line item, saying he did not want to interfere with the business of the legislature.

We hope the governor has seen the error of his ways and will not hesitate to reject the latest effort to close the blinds on state government.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the biennium budget contained language that would restrict what the public can see and hear about communications among legislative staff and members of the General Assembly. In other words, proponents of this secret-government initiative want to keep the people from knowing how the General Assembly is conducting the people's business.

School funding case: The initiative was prompted by a Ohio Supreme Court ruling that required the legislature to turn over documents and allow interviews of state officials as requested by the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding. The coalition had asked for the information in subpoenas it served on employees of the Ohio Department of Education and the Legislative Budget Office in connection with the school funding case.

The state had said the information wasn't available and went so far as to argue that it did not have to respond to the coalition's request. Thankfully, the court decided that state government had overstepped its bounds.

But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives was undaunted and language was inserted in the two-year budget bill to shield documents legislators do not want to share with the public.

The bill is now before the Senate where Democrats had pledged to fight for open govenrment -- all the way to the conference committee, if necessary.

However, if the General Assembly passes the bill with the secret government provisions intact, the people of Ohio should make it clear to the governor that they expect him to protect their right to know.




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