Open Meeting Law bill may die in Senate

Siddoway

BOISE — A bill to expand the Idaho Open Meeting Law to include state boards or commissions created by executive order, which passed the House on a 70-0 vote last week, likely won’t get a Senate hearing this week.

Senate State Affairs Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said Monday that he’s not planning to schedule a hearing on HB 273. 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.”

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.

Jon Hanian, spokesman for Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, said, “This office is not, on principle, opposed to what this legislation is attempting to do. … In fact, many of these boards and commissions already adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of the law — open meetings — even though its applicability to them is not mandated in code.

“However we are concerned about some of the unintended consequences, particularly as it relates to sensitive information that is central to some of them.”

Hanian and Cally Younger, attorney for the governor, cited the Cybersecurity Task Force as a prime example.

“There’s good reason why they’re not open to the public, and some of the things they want to keep private don’t fit clearly into the executive session” provisions of the Idaho Open Meeting Law, Younger said. That panel deals with sensitive information regarding vulnerability of state data to hacking, she said.

Some state boards and commissions do comply with the Open Meeting Law, Younger said. But, she said, “We wanted time to reach out,” and determine which ones already comply, which don’t, why not, and what it would take to bring them into compliance.

Younger said some state commissions are obscure and lack staff; all are all-volunteer.

“It’s an education thing,” Hanian said. “We have to do our due diligence.”

He added, “We owe it to them to do that. These are good civil servants that are volunteering their time.”

Younger said waiting over the interim would “give us enough time to go back to all of these different entities. It may well be most of them are just fine.”

“That’s where we’d like to go,” she said. “Meanwhile, we’re encouraging commissions and task forces to comply where they can.”

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

This article was originally published as a pair of blog posts by The Spokesman-Review.