Interested in open government? Bills to watch in 2017 in Tennessee

Lawmakers have filed dozens of bill this year that could affect a citizen’s ability to get information about their local and state government.  While it’s still early, here is a list of bills to watch.

Economic development records

HB 947 / SB 1179 – State Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin / State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald – Makes confidential county and municipal records related to economic development. Part of this bill would make confidential any county or city economic development contracts, agreements and related records until after a contract is entered into. The other part of the bill allows a county or municipality to keep any documents confidential after a contract is signed for a period of 5 years if chief executive officer of the county or municipality determines that “a document or information is of such a sensitive nature that its disclosure or release would seriously harm the ability of the county (or municipality) to compete for or execute agreements or contracts for economic or community development.” Certain information would never become public, including trade secrets received, maintained or produced by the county or municipality or any company records containing marketing information or capital plans that the company wishes to remain confidential.

Public records requests

HB 58 / SB 464 – State Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville / State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville – Requires records custodians to accept requests through all official modes of communication, including in person, telephone, fax, email or other electronic means. If a custodian requires that a request for copies be made on a form developed by the office of open records counsel, then the records custodian shall provide such form in the “most expeditious means possible” when the form is requested.

Charter schools

HB 1360 / SB 1102 – State Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville / State Sen. Sara Kyle, D- Memphis – Enacts “Transparency in Charter School Finance Act.” Adds “chartering management organization” as subject to public records act as well as charter school itself, which is already in the statute. Also creates mandatory annual reporting of salaries, contract payments and other financial information.

Names of government vendors

HB 313 / SB 1201 – State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville / State Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville – Expands an exemption that makes confidential the names of vendors that provide goods and services to protect government electronic and communication systems to also include vendors of data storage systems.

Lottery records

HB 575 / SB 563 – State Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport / State Sen. Jon Lundberg – Removes the public records exception for information concerning lottery sales made by lottery retailers.

Five bills related to body camera footage

HB 732 / SB 442 – State Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin / State Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin – Creates exception for body camera footage taken inside a licensed health facility (hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers) or mental health facility, and inside homes where no crime has occurred.

HB 819 / SB 112 – State Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville / State Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, Requires law enforcement to wear body cameras while on duty if funded by grants, private donations or federal funds. Would make videos related to an investigation confidential until final disposition of any case / charges. Other video is treated the same as any other law enforcement document for the purpose of confidentiality.

HB 277 / SB 1039 – State Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis / State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis – Requires TBI “investigative record” to become public after completion of an investigation by the TBI into an officer-involved shooting death.

HB 1284 / SB 1324 – State Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville / State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston – Makes confidential and not subject to public inspection a recording taken by a law enforcement body camera within the interior of a mental healthcare or healthcare facility.

HB 1146 / SB 1011 – State Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin / State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville – Makes any portion of a recording captured by a law enforcement body camera that includes an image of a minor or was taken within certain premises confidential and not open for public inspection.

Access to bill modifications

HB 1074 / SB 320 – State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville / State Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis – Authorizes the public to access the legislation dashboard used by lawmakers in the General Assembly in the same manner as lawmakers do so they can see amendments to bills.

Legal activity by governing bodies of colleges

HB 1108 / SB 1070 – State Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville / State Rep. Jon Lundburg, R-Bristol — Requires reports to governing bodies of public institutions of higher education at each governing board meeting from its attorney. Those reports must also be posted to the website for public viewing.

Voting records of lawmakers

HB 1186 / SB 322 – State Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville / State Rep. Lee Harris, D-Memphis — Requires the joint legislative services committee to publish on the general assembly website the floor voting record of each member following the conclusion of each annual or extraordinary session of the general assembly.

Outsourcing state agencies

HB 1331 / SB 1327 – State Rep. Dwayne Thompson, D-Cordova / State Rep. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville – Requires the commissioner of finance and administration to notify all members of the general assembly when making a recommendation for outsourcing of a state agency program to the governor and finance, ways and means committees.

Task Force on Government Spending and Accountability

HB 815 / SB 788 – State Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro / State Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville – Creates Task Force on Government Spending and Accountability, attached to Comptroller for administrative matters, to review areas of savings and investments, efficacy of spending public funds and outcomes, reduction of long-term spending and optimization of use of public funds. Primary goals is to ensure saving state taxpayer dollars. Five members appointed by governor and general assembly. Must meet at least twice a year, and all meetings are subject to the Open Meetings Act.

Meetings to raise taxes

HB 974 / SB 909 -State Rep. Courtney Rogers, R-Goodlettsville / State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville – Requires any property tax increase to be passed by two-thirds majority of the local legislative body at two consecutive, regularly scheduled meetings. Authorizes referendum on the question if tax increase is not approved by two-thirds vote.

Disclosure by lawmakers

HB 275 / SB 327State Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga / State Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville  – Requires members of general assembly to disclose travel expenses paid on behalf of any member by a person with an interest in a public policy of the state if the travel was for the purpose of informing or advising the member with respect to policy.

HB 1123 / SB 1376 – State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport / State Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville – Prohibits candidates for public office and officials in the executive or legislative branch from soliciting gifts; requires disclosure to the ethics commission of a gift from a person who is not a lobbyist or an employer of a lobbyist that is accepted by a candidate or official in the executive or legislative branch.

HB 1363 / SB 1373 – State Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville / State Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville – Requires members of General Assembly to disclose travel expenses paid by certain national organizations within 10 business days of returning from the trip.

Public participation

HB 406 / SB 548 – State Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooletwah / State Sen Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro – Enacts the Public Participation Protection Act — anti-SLAPP bill.

What do you think?