Two legislative leaders from East Tennessee are the 2014 recipients of the Tennessee Press Association’s coveted “Open Government Award.”
The awards were presented to Sen. Ken Yager, a Harriman Republican and chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, and Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, on Feb. 6 at TPA’s Convention and Winter Institute in Nashville. Haynes chairs the House State Government Committee.
TPA President Lynn Richardson, publisher of the Herald & Tribune of Jonesborough, cited the two legislative leaders’ “broad commitment to the values of government transparency and press freedom.”
Richardson said government transparency is a three-legged stool of public accountability, starting with the state’s open meetings and public records laws and coupled with the affirmative disclosure of information through public notices.
Senator Yager and Representative Haynes have championed open government from a variety of perspectives through word and deed, Richardson said.
Senator Yager, an attorney and college professor, has opposed proposals to weaken Tennessee’s 40-year-old “sunshine law,” speaking from the unique perspective and experience of a former county attorney and county executive for Roane County for over two decades.
He stood up for the interests of constituents of his mostly-rural district by speaking out against proposals to move public notices from newspapers to the government websites exclusively. He pointed out that in some of the seven counties he represents as many as 40% of households did not have computers or internet access.
The two lawmakers successfully sponsored legislation in the 108th General Assembly that requires that public notices be published in the local newspaper, posted on the newspaper’s website and on an aggregate statewide website operated by TPA. Senator Yager noted on the Senate floor that it was appropriate that it passed during National Sunshine Week.
Representative Haynes has been vigilant in watching out for the interest of open government and protecting press freedom. Since coming to the House in 2008, Haynes has often flagged legislation that threatened government transparency. As committee chairman, he has insured open government advocates got a fair hearing.
Haynes and Yager both serve on the state Advisory Committee on Open Government.
Haynes, who is in the insurance business, is studying law at the Nashville School of Law.
Yager teaches history and law at Roane County Community College. He attended the University of Tennessee Martin and received is J.D. degree from the University of Memphis.