A legislative committee studying changes to Iowa's open records and open meetings laws wants a new state executive branch agency to hear freedom of information complaints and levy civil penalties. Recent questions the openness of public records and public meetings surrounding things such as the University of Iowa presidential search, and a central Iowa job training agency salary scandal, prompted the committee.
Senator Mike Connolly, a Democrat from Dubuque, says the law needs to be updated. "If you're elected to do the public's business, whether it be on the school board or the city council or the county supervisors, even state government, there needs to be sunshine on the process. Taxpayer's money is involved here," Connolly says.
Connolly says its has been 25 years since lawmakers have reviewed Iowa law governing freedom of information, and says it won't be easy to make changes. "There are powerful interests inside and outside of government that have big concerns about this, and in the legislative process it's hard to broker all the interests and actually have an end product," Connolly says. Connolly says a wide variety of groups have an interest in the issue.
"On the media side, you have the Iowa Newspaper Association, Freedom of Information council, s, and the Iowa Civil Liberties Union," Connolly says, "On the government side, you've got the Iowa League of Cities, the Association of Counties, and the Schoolboard Association. At the state level, the governor's office is watching this very closely." Connolly says the new executive branch agency would hear complaints brought by citizens against any level of government which may be violating the state's freedom of information laws.
Update: Iowa lawmakers said they will recommend creating a new state board that would investigate complaints and fine government agencies or elected officials who violate open meetings laws.