ZACHARY: Keeping an eye on General Assembly

DomeLight by Jim Zachary 

In order for our government to be of, by and for the people, it must be out in the open, in front of the people. 

The Georgia General Assembly exempts itself from the state's Open Meetings Act. 

That is unfortunate and a disservice to the people of Georgia. 

Think about the fact the General Assembly requires local government — county commissions, city councils, boards of education, governing boards and authorities — to deliberate the people's business in open, public meetings but then doesn't always practice what it preaches and requires. 

It is true that the House and Senate conducts most business in public. 

It is true that committee meetings, where most of the deliberation happens, are generally open, albeit in very small rooms that can only seat a few people at a time. 

It is true that much of the business done by state lawmakers is live-streamed, making it very accessible, especially during a time of social distancing and COVID-19 restrictions. The live streaming initiative is a great public service. 

In addition to all of these things, the state's legislative tracker — https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/all — is also a great public service. 

The issue is that while the state House of Representatives and Senate do much of the public's business out in the open, neither is required to and that means the most controversial, impactful and even contentious pieces of legislation can be maneuvered behind closed doors, allowing for the kind of good old boy politics and gamesmanship which should be beneath public servants who are elected to represent the interests of their districts and the state, not special interests. 

There are some controversial pieces of legislation on the table during this legislative session, including measures to add new restrictions to the state's early voting process and elections laws. The people of Georgia need to hear the entire debate around these issues, not just the speech making and grandstanding that lawmakers want us to hear. 

The public should know how representatives and senators are thinking about these things and what their true motivations are for wanting to change our election laws. Are they interested in benefiting their own political party, or in securing the electoral process and encouraging voter turnout in all pockets of the state? 

All these discussions should be out in front of the people of Georgia. 

These things are everyone's business. 

Open government is always better government. 

Jim Zachary is CNHI's director of newsroom training and development, editor of the Valdosta Daily Times and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. 

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