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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Iowa Reforms Clear Hurdle

Iowa’s sunshine laws would have some new cops on the beat under a proposal recommended Wednesday by a Senate committee.

The 50-page bill is in response to years of complaints from citizens, media organizations and government agencies about a lack of openness in government. The biggest change would be the creation of a new office to investigate alleged violations.

“We’re trying to shine the light even brighter on government,” said Sen. Mike Connolly, D-Dubuque, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The Senate State Government Committee recommended the bill on a voice vote, with no opposition, though two Republicans chose not to vote.

The measure is now eligible for debate on the Senate floor.

The following are some of the notable parts of the plan:

* A new group, the Iowa Public Information Board would be created to enforce the law. The bill doesn’t include the board’s budget, but sponsors said they expect the board to cost up to $1 million per year to run. Under current law, the Attorney General’s Office is one of several agencies that enforce the open meetings and open records laws.

* Violations of the law would be subject to a civil penalty, as opposed to a criminal one. The minimum fine would rise from $100 to $1,000, and the maximum would rise from $1,000 to $2,500.

* Government boards that are conducting a job search would need to disclose the names of candidates once the search is narrowed to five or fewer candidates. This is in response to concerns about openness in the recent University of Iowa president’s search.

* Out-of-court settlements involving a government board would be public record.

More here.

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