A bill that carves out a broad new exemption to the state’s open meeting law cleared an important legislative hurdle last week despite being branded anti-democratic by advocates of open government.
Senate Bill 1148, which would “exempt certain negotiations between the leaders of political parties from being considered a meeting for purposes of the Freedom of Information Act,” was approved by the Government Administration and Elections Committee on Friday, on a vote of 10 to 4.
Most Republicans on the committee–including Sen. Michael McLachlan of Danbury and Reps. Tony Hwang of Fairfield, David Labriola of Oxford and Rosa Rebimbas of Naugatuck–voted against the bill. Democrats, including committee co-chairs Sen. Anthony Musto of Trumbull and Rep. Ed Jutila of East Lyme, supported it.
The measure now goes to the legislative commissioners’ office, where the bill’s legal language will be drafted before it moves on to the Senate.
Advocates of open government are sharply critical of the proposal, saying it could have a chilling effect on democracy by limiting public access to government.
“What this would do is short circuit our system of representation and ignore that governmental meetings are defined as open to the public in our democracy, with very limited exemptions for secrecy,” James H. Smith, president of the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, wrote in a column in the News-Times.
“Let’s hope there will be some more debate before it becomes common place that your town council or school board will be able to meet secretly simply by saying it is leadership prerogative,” Smith wrote.