Because of that, the Tribune and other newspapers across Wyoming are supporting several proposed changes to the state’s public access laws sponsored by state Rep. Amy Edmonds, R-Cheyenne. Her bills — HB 119, 120 and 121 — have co-sponsors in …
Wyoming residents should be able to access public records easily and with no cost. After all, they are the owners of those documents, not the officials who often try to hoard them.
It’s the same with government meetings. Residents should be able to oversee their public officials’ work, except in some rare cases such as personnel matters and legal actions.
Because of that, the Tribune and other newspapers across Wyoming are supporting several proposed changes to the state’s public access laws sponsored by state Rep. Amy Edmonds, R-Cheyenne. Her bills — HB 119, 120 and 121 — have co-sponsors in both chambers and on both sides of the political aisle. They were expected to go before the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.
The changes were developed by the Wyoming Press Association in conjunction with the Wyoming Coalition for Open Government.
In general, these bills would clear up a number of vexing issues that make government less accountable to the people of Wyoming.
For example, they make it clear that residents cannot be charged to view existing documents, in whatever form. This should stop such foolishness as the cities of Cheyenne and Rawlins trying to charge to access public e-mails. Indeed, in Cheyenne, the mayor’s office demanded more than $4,000 to see his e-mails.
The bills also would limit costs for copies of public documents (some localities charge $2 or more a page) and set a time limit for government to respond to requests to see documents (though that can be negotiated).
On public meetings, the bills specify that “special meetings” be announced at least 24 hours in advance (in some localities, these are held within just minutes of public notice, shutting out the people); and they would compel bodies to specifically explain why they are going into executive session.
The bills also require that executive sessions be taped and that those tapes be given to a judge if there is a dispute over a possible meeting violation. Not only does this assure that no hanky-panky is going on behind closed doors, but it protects officials too: If accused of breaking the law, they can just play the tape to prove otherwise.
Perhaps the most controversial bill would move public access lawsuits to the front of the line in the courts. This makes good sense. Many of these actions are time sensitive. To make a member of the public wait to get rulings often makes the final results meaningless, since the government already has acted on the issue months before.
Some public officials already are grumbling about these measures, saying they would restrict their ability to govern or add costs to government. Really? Then they apparently reject the right of the people to access their government, even if that does make governing messier or require public officials to do more work.
We urge our readers to contact their legislators and urge them to support these bills. They will make government more open for the people of Wyoming.
(Reed Eckhardt is the president of the Wyoming Press Association and executive editor at the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.)