|NMU||TENNESSEE||Freedom of Information||Mar 21, 2001|
After efforts to open hearings fail, lawmaker eyes amendment
- The legislature has sole discretion to open or close its meetings, according to a court of appeals ruling that was followed by failed attempts to change the sunshine law.
A state senator is seeking to make the legislature subject to the open meetings law by amending the Tennessee constitution, after back-to-back losses before state courts and a committee of the legislature.
On March 19, the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a case that challenged the closed-door meetings by the legislature during last year’s budget process. Five days earlier, a House subcommittee defeated two bills that would have revised the open meeting law to include the legislature.
The unsuccessful bills were the byproduct of an earlier state Court of Appeals ruling that held only legislative action, rather than a court opinion, could make the meetings and deliberations by elected lawmakers open to the public. The state Supreme Court declined to review the case, which was brought against Lt. Gov. John Wilder by law student and former television news producer Mark Mayhew. A number of media organizations joined with Mayhew to oppose the closed process.
State Sen. Doug Jackson said he has the support of rank-and-file members for an amendment, according to a March 21 report in the Tennessean. The first-term Democratic senator faces an uphill battle. To pass, the amendment will need a two-thirds majority during the 2003 or 2004 session and a majority of votes in the 2006 general election.
“While it may be convenient to meet in private, I really think if we conduct our business publicly, the process will be better understood and the final product will be better,” Jackson told the Tennessean.
(Mayhew v. Wilder; Media Counsel: George Barrett, Nashville) — AG
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press