Monday, January 3, 2011

Five Things the Legislature and Governor Can Do For Open Government.

I walked the halls of the Capitol today. I can already feel the political realignment there.  The reconstitution of politics at the Capitol is a once in a generation occasion, but more than that a historic opportunity to look with new eyes at issues of accountability, openness, and transparency of government to the people of Minnesota.

There are five things I would like to suggest to the Legislature and the Governor.

1. The Legislature should be under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  What this change would do is make records held by the legislature clearly public and put it on the same level as the executive branch.  For example, citizens would be able to see by law who influences legislation by getting access to documents, memos, and supporting documentation.

2. The Minnesota Historical Society and some entities created by government should come under open government laws.  For example, the Minnesota Historical Society is exempted from the Data Practices Act.  In speaking with an employee of the Society the person indicated they have a policy that mirrors aspects of open records law. There is a difference though with an institution policy and law.

3. The new Governor should clearly make a commitment to follow the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and Official Records Act. The previous administration  had  interpreted these laws in a way that closed off access to clearly public records because they had been destroyed. What happened if a person was interested to know how the Governor came to a decision?  The individual would not get documents and communication, ie e-mails, that led to the decision.  The people of Minnesota would not have access as to how the Governor arrived at his decision  The Governor's office sets the example for the rest of the executive branch.

4. The Legislature should review as to whether or not there is enough openness, transparency, and accountability in the Minnesota Judicial System to its citizens.  For example, I had an interest to attend the Judges meeting in my Judicial District which meets often to discuss the "administration of justice."  I have been told I cannot attend the meetings even though it is all elected officials who are there.  Another area that could be reviewed is what information is public when a lawyer is disciplined or when they get a warning letter.  It seems that information about a lawyer is less transparent than other kinds of licensing. The Legislature exempted the Judicial branch from the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act in 1988.

5. The Legislature should consider forming an independent office to enforce information policy laws.  Currently, the Department of Administration through IPAD does advisory opinions and education.  A number of states such as New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and others have an office or board that is independent and provides enforcement, advisory opinions, and education on privacy and open government issues as it relates to government operations.

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