Advocates of open government denounced a bill that would allow government officials to conduct more of their business in secret.
Senate Bill 1148 would exempt certain negotiations between political leaders from the requirements of the state’s open meeting laws, essentially given those officials permission to conduct government business behind closed doors, even if their gathering constitutes a quorum of the board.
Mary E. Schwind, an official with the state Freedom of Information Commission, called it “bad news for open government” and said the proposal is so broad “that you might instead chose to dispense with the open meeting definition in its entirety.”
James H. Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, called the proposal “troubling” and “ill-advised.”
“One of the fundamental precepts of democracy is that the meetings of those the people elect to serve them in their government should be as open and public as possible,” Smith told members of the legislature’s government administration and elections committee, which held a hearing on the bill Monday.
“From the inception of Connecticut’s FOI statutes, the pillar of transparency has been open meetings,” Smith said.
The bill’s origins are a bit of a mystery — no lawmakers are listed as sponsors.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said leaders sometimes need to meet behind closed doors as part of the process of turning concepts into formal legislative proposals.
“That process needs some conversation, quietly, to make it happen,” McLachlan said. “And then it goes to a public hearing…[and] all the cards are on the table.”
Smith said there are already enough ways for officials to hold legal meetings while complying with the terms of the state’s freedom of information laws, without the need for a braid new exception.
“I don’t believe we need to change the law,” Smith told McLachlan. “This bill as we read it…codifies that a meeting of the leadership of an organization, even if it is a quorum, is not a meeting that would require disclose. That’s taking another leap that I don’t believe is a wise thing to do.”