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Open Meeting Law expansion bill may die without hearing in Senate

Though it passed the House on a unanimous, 70-0 vote last week, Senate State Affairs Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, says at this point, he’s not planning to schedule a hearing on HB 273, the bill to expand the Idaho Open Meeting Law to include state boards or commissions created by executive order. Siddoway said the Senate GOP leadership asked him to put a hold on the bill at the behest of the governor’s office. Without a Senate hearing, the bill would die for this year.

Siddoway said he was told that the governor’s office is concerned about groups dealing with cybersecurity, picking winners of the Idaho Medal of Achievement, dealing with workforce development incentives for companies, and military advocacy. “They were looking for some kind of a way to eliminate them from the Open Meetings Law,” Siddoway said. “I’m certainly not pushing that bill to make changes, and I don’t know that it’s all-important this year, or whether we’ll try to get these ironed out and go another year. Unless somebody comes and has to have that, I’m inclined to just let it stay there.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told that the bill may not get a Senate hearing, said, “I think when we conduct the people’s business, regardless of what level, it should be done with the public involved. There are certain things that have to be done in executive session,” but he noted that the Open Meeting Law allows for that.

Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. Butch Otter, said in an email, “The governor is not opposed to state boards following the Open Meetings Law. … We have simply raised some concerns about the need to push this legislation through in the last week of the session without addressing some of the unintended consequences we believe this legislation would create. We have offered to work with the bill sponsors between this session and next to work out some of those issues.”

Among state boards and commissions that haven’t been following the law are such major groups as the Idaho Criminal Justice Commission, a 25-member panel that meets 10 times a year and has eight subcommittees; that commission was created by an executive order in 2005. The Idaho Open Meeting Law requires that public bodies give notice of their meetings and post agendas in advance; allow the public to attend; and keep publicly available minutes of their actions.

When the bill passed the House, its sponsor, House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said the most common reaction he got to the proposal was that people were surprised those boards didn't fall under the law already.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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