Idaho House passes open meetings law

From the Idaho Statesman

Advocates say the bill’s requirements are easy for officials to interpret.
Published: 04/02/09

Idaho’s open meetings law just got a little tougher under Senate Bill 1142, which passed the House on a 59-10 vote on Wednesday and now goes to Gov. Butch Otter.

Under the bill, boards, councils and commissions could face fines of $50 if they make a simple mistake and close a meeting or alter an agenda without proper action. They could correct a mistake afterward to avoid the fine.

An elected official now must “knowingly” violate the Open Meeting Law to face civil penalties – a high legal hurdle. The bill eliminates the requirement that the first offense to be a “knowing” violation but lowers the fine, currently $150. It raises the fine for subsequent offenses to $500 from $300 for officials shown to be “knowing” violators.

A 2007 Idaho Supreme Court ruling that the Ada County Commission had not “knowingly” violated open meeting rules when they gathered behind closed doors to discuss a proposed housing project spurred open government groups to change the law.

“What we are doing is adding to protections,” said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise.

Advocates also say the bill puts its requirements in clear, laymen’s terms for small boards and commissions that can’t afford attorneys to interpret the law.

Opponents, like Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, argued that a provision in the bill allows public commissions and boards to make last minute changes to agendas, which doesn’t serve the public.

“I think the press needs to be wherever they want to be when they want to be, except in our caucus,” said Rep. Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis. “If they want to follow me home after the meeting and check on the color of my pajamas, I’m fine with that. … Our concern is our county commissioners post the agenda on the courthouse door.”

Kathleen Kreller; 377-6418

From the Idaho Statesman

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