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State's biennium budget retains secrecy clause



Published: Fri, May 25, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Republican leaders in the Ohio General Assembly have sent a chilling message to the citizens of this state through their adoption of a provision that exempts legislators, their staffs and certain legislative documents from being subpoenaed in court cases.

The message, in a nutshell: The people have no business knowing how we conduct the people's business.

Democrats, who fought the secrecy clause in committee and on the floor of the Senate, are correct in their assertion that it gives the General Assembly the ability to "hide government from the people," in the words of Sen. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown.

Hagan had pushed to delete the offensive language from the biennium budget bill, which is now on its way to a conference committee where differences between the House and Senate versions will be ironed out. He indicated that the Democrats on the conference committee would make one last attempt to ensure openness in the legislative process, but he did not hold out much hope for success.

Amendment: During Senate Finance Committee's consideration of the budget bill, Hagan had moved to amend the legislation so that members of the General Assembly, assembly staff and legislative staff would not have immunity in civil actions for any legislative act or duty.

In addition, the Youngstown senator wanted to strip the insulation from legislative documents, which protects them from subpoena. Finally, his amendment would have deleted the provision that prohibits the legislative staff from being compelled to testify in civil cases about their involvement in the preparation of legislation.

On a party line vote, the finance committee defeated Hagan's amendment. Thus, the Republicans made sure that important aspects of the legislative process will be hidden from the public.

As we noted in an editorial Monday, the last hope for open government rests with Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican. Taft should recognize that members of his own party have tossed a hot potato to him. If he drops it, the voters of Ohio will have every reason to question his commitment to the people's right to know.




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