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See To The People’s Interests, Above All

Tue., March 17, 1998

So, you don’t think the potato is king in Idaho? Consider the headlong attempt by the Idaho Legislature this year to close Potato Commission records and deliberations to the prying eyes of the public.

Legislation that would allow the Potato Commission to conduct virtual Star Chamber proceedings raced through both houses at warp speed. It passed the Senate and the House on votes of 31-4 and 65-4, respectively. State Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden, was the only North Idaho legislator to stand against the wave of support for the potato kings.

Crow, a former newspaper reporter, stated he was sensitive to weakening public records laws. “We are slowly nibbling away at public access to information and their right to know.”

Fortunately, Gov. Phil Batt not only shared Crow’s sentiments but vetoed the bill. The legislation was but one of an incredible total of 10 bills this session that sought exemptions from open meeting or open records laws. In other words, the 1998 Legislature has entertained a full-scale assault on open government in the state of Idaho.

Idaho government is run by the people and for the people, whether the tin gods of the Potato Commission and the Idaho Insurance Guaranty Commission (which also asked to conduct closed meetings) acknowledge it or not. Idahoans have a right to know about the business conducted by their government, unless there’s a compelling reason for them not to know.

At this point, the Idaho Open Records Law contains 46 exemptions that range from juvenile court records to medical records to volunteer environmental audits. Soon, there will be so many exemptions that the law will be useless. “One exemption doesn’t have the impact,” said Idaho Press Club lobbyist Debbie Kristensen, “but when you consider how many are out there, it’s an overwhelming impact.”

To its credit, the Legislature has killed or is going to kill several of the attempts to water down the open records law. The worst of the bunch was an Idaho Education Association bill that would have kept teachers’ criminal records secret. Typically, the IEA was more interested in protecting problem teachers than school children. The bill passed the Senate before dying in the House. So, parents still can learn if Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith has molested children or committed some other criminal act that should be of concern.

There’s no need to amend the open record laws.

House Minority Leader Jim Stoicheff was right when he said: “The only thing that grows in the dark is mushrooms. Sunshine is good for everything.”

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board


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