Jim Zachary: State government just a little more transparent

Here is some welcome news for open government advocates and for the people of Georgia.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said all House committee and subcommittee meetings will be live-streamed.

Previously, only full committee and select subcommittee meetings were made available online for the public to view live.

Here is what Ralston said in a statement when he made the announcement, "The COVID-19 pandemic has made social distancing an immediate priority, but this new, expanded streaming capability continues the House of Representatives' commitment to open debate on policy matters impacting Georgians. I appreciate the willingness of our members to take this next step in inviting Georgians into the People's House."

Good words.

In addition to the live-streaming, the recorded videos of meetings and floor proceedings will be archived on the House website at http://house.ga.gov.

The people's business should always be open to the people.

Back in March, before the General Assembly suspended its session because of COVID-19, Sen. Brian Strickland, the governor's floor leader, sponsored a bill that calls for the General Assembly to be subject to the state's open government laws.

While his bill was mostly about making a strong statement and does not really have any chance of gaining traction among fellow lawmakers, it makes no sense, whatsoever, for the General Assembly to exempt itself from the state's Sunshine Laws.

State government requires local governments to be transparent and conduct all the people's business out in the open. What's right for county commissions, city councils and boards of education is right for the Georgia General Assembly.

Yes, the bill was largely symbolic but that does not mean it is without merit or unimportant. It is so unfortunate that lawmakers have no intention to make themselves subject to open government laws simply because they do not want to be held to the same standards of transparency they require of local government.

All government -- including state government -- belongs to the people.

All the business transacted by government -- including the Georgia General Assembly -- is the people's business. That should include every branch and every level of government -- including the Georgia General Assembly. Government is only of, by and for the people when it is out in front of the people.

Once again, it needs to be said: The Georgia General Assembly should end its exception to the state's Sunshine Laws.

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times and president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

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