A House subcommittee approved a bill on Wednesday that would change the way legislation to create new exemptions to the public records law are vetted.
The bill, HB86 by state Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, will require House bills that create an exception to the Tennessee Public Records Act to be referred to the House Government Operations Committee for a positive, negative or neutral recommendation.
Zachary explained any such bill would then go back to the standing committee that is hearing the bill and continue its regular course. Zachary also said the government operations committee would consider whether the exemption should have a sunset provision on it, although HB86 does not mention sunset provisions specifically.
“This is a result of the Ad Hoc Committee that met this summer regarding open records,” Zachary told the House Public Service and Employees subcommittee. “We took on what actually ended up being an exhaustive process to evaluate the 593 exemptions in the code. As we got into that process, we realized what a heavy lift that was going to be.
“The easiest step to take from that committee was how to address the exemptions and exceptions moving forward and that’s what this legislation does,” Zachary said. “We still in conversation about how to deal with the existing 593 exemption and there will probably be an additional ad hoc committee on that this summer.”
Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, and chair of subcommittee, also sat on the open government ad hoc committee with Zachary.
“This was one of the big issues,” Ramsey said. “People who were very involved in transparency were concerned that we have so many caption bills up here and it’s deep in the process of passing a bill with compromises before we ever fully understand what the bill does.”
“So the media and people that are interested in transparency often do not have the attention on a bill which may end up doing something unforseen.”
The new process, if approved, would not start until July 1, after the current legislative session is ended.
HB86 next goes to the State Committee at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.