Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Access for mere citizens.

Here's my public endorsement of the call for specific ethics reforms as outlined by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research and Tennessee Tax Revolt.

They recommend, and I heartily endorse:

  • Recording and posting all House and Senate floor, committee and subcommittee votes on final action for any bill on the General Assembly website within two hours of the vote.
  • Providing that every bill scheduled for a floor vote for final action be made available in fully amended form on the legislative website 72 hours before the vote.
  • Amending both the Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act so they apply to the proceedings of the General Assembly.
  • Offering video streaming and archiving of all Senate and House general sessions and committee sessions.
  • Requiring FULL disclosure on the legislative website of amounts spent by those that employ lobbyists or spend money to influence legislation and completely outlawing contingency lobbying fees.
  • Prohibiting lobbyists from serving on State boards and commissions
I couldn't agree more with their statement:

"We believe citizens are not engaged because the General Assembly has consistently refused to provide the tools and opportunities necessary for Tennesseans to become knowledgeable about the political system and exercise their voices within government."

Government naturally creates a dependent society and works hard at protecting itself. One way that happens is by keeping folks out of the information loop. It worked for the church priests of old when they kept the Scriptures in Latin, it still works when our legislative priests create and maintain a convoluted legislative process. It takes a long time to begin to get up to speed even if you do have the time and ability to travel to Nashville, hang out in the halls and hearings, get to know how the system works (and then how it really works), who the players are and who you have to deal with in order to get something done.

I've spent 6 years trying to teach folks how to interact with the system and while homeschoolers are among the most successful citizen lobbyists I've barely scratched the surface in getting them involved. The fact is we mere citizens actually have jobs and responsibilities that cannot be overlooked in order to oversee our very own representatives. And that is something those who don't want to submit to accountability count on.

Rep. Stacy Campfield blogged about a meeting recently that created a program called "Tennessee Trust". While the comments have been removed I did suggest that it should be renamed 'Tennessee Trust But Verify". Legislators have got to go overboard in providing verifiable information and then, perhaps, after years of citizens finding nothing out of order, perhaps then we'll actually begin to trust again. Until then the innocent and the guilty must suffer under a cloud of suspicion.

So let's begin to remove that cloud by embracing legitimate accountability and e a s y access by citizens to the information they must have in order to know what their own representatives are doing.

And I'll push this even further down the pipeline. Every government entity ought to adhere to these rules. Citizens across the state need information from every governmental entity. Yesterday was the time to provide it.

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