UPDATE: The measures were introduced in the House State Affairs Committee this morning on a unanimous vote.
Legislation that’s set for possible introduction in the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday morning would take Idaho’s ethics laws, its Public Records Law, and the Idaho Open Meeting law and move them into a single new title of state law, Title 74, to be called, “Transparent and Ethical Government.” Currently, ethics laws are scattered into several sections of the code; the Public Records Law, oddly, is in the section of law for “Evidence,” and the Open Meeting Law is in a portion of the state code for “Miscellaneous.” The recodification, which is accomplished through two bills – one to create the new title, and the other to make all the necessary cross-references – doesn’t change any of the provisions in these laws, but gives them a higher profile and makes them easier to find.
Cally Younger, Gov. Butch Otter’s public records ombudsman, has been working with a group of stakeholders including the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, the Idaho Press Club, the Newspaper Association of Idaho, the Idaho Association of Counties, the Association of Idaho Cities, state agencies and more since last April on possible improvements to the Public Records Law; this is the first legislation she’s bringing forward from the group’s work. It is a consensus bill endorsed by all of the stakeholders. (Full disclosure here: As the president of the Idaho Press Club, I serve on the stakeholders committee, and the Idaho Press Club’s board has passed a resolution unanimously endorsing this bill. It comes as the Idaho Public Records Law turns 25 years old, and the Press Club thinks it’s a fitting tribute to this important law to do this this year.)
Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, spoke of the importance of the bill at this year’s mandatory ethics training session for all state lawmakers; it comes as legislative leaders have put increasing emphasis on ethics, including holding half-day ethics training sessions for all legislators both last year and this year during the first week of the legislative session.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Hill said Wednesday. “We need to make our statutes as easy to understand as possible, so that somebody doesn’t have to hire an attorney to go through multiple sections to find out the answer to something. And we have that problem in other areas of the statute, but whenever we can clean that up and make it more understandable, to me that adds transparency.”