|NMU||OHIO||Freedom of Information|
Budget add-on could restrict government databases
- A provision tucked into the state budget bill could prevent state agencies from creating databases without the consent of legislative committees, if a private company already provides such data.
April 25, 2003 — Information typically provided to Ohio residents on the state government’s Web site may not be there long if a provision included in the state budget bill is enacted. The provision, know as the “Electronic Government Services Act,” was authored by Rep. Steve Buehrer (R-Toledo) and added as a floor amendment to the budget just before it left the House for the Senate.
“A lot of information is readily available online that we use all the time and that the tax payers paid for initially — unless the state controlling board gives the approval — that information might come down,” said Sandy Theis, Columbus bureau chief for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. In an article Wednesday, Theis cited state travel and tourism information as one potential target of the legislation.
The act states: “If two or more competing private enterprises provide electronic commerce services, a government agency shall not engage, through the expenditure of public moneys, in any activity to provide or offer those electronic commerce services to the public or expand similar electronic commerce services to the public.”
But that’s not the end of the process. An agency can provide information in cases where two or more private entities already provide it with special dispensation from the state’s Controlling Board, an organization that approves unbid state contracts.
“People are now popping up with competing opinions about what it means,” said Frank Deaner, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association.
In a case where there is public information that a state agency maintains and some other private entity obtains that same data and puts it up on their Web site, “there’s a question as to whether the government has to withdraw that information,” Deaner said.
A major concern for Deaner is the fact that the legislation went through as part of the budget.
“It was never properly debated,” he said.
An editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer Thursday bashed Buehrer’s proposal: “This is a textbook example of a legislator who has forgotten he works for the public, not for those who mine public information and attempt to profit from it.”
“It would be one thing if government agencies were overstepping their bounds to compete with private vendors,” The Plain Dealer said. “But that’s not the case. Ohio is not distributing sports statistics or publishing airline travel prices.”
(H.B. 95) — JL
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press