Sunday, March 01, 2015

"Much of the budget work happens behind the scenes, said Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, House Majority Leader"

This quote in Nathaniel Herz's ADN article today struck me.   She was defending the legislature from the charge that they were focused on frivolous things instead of working on the budget. 

We have an open meetings act in Alaska.  The point is that government decisions should be made in public.  There are some exceptions - like to avoid revealing an ongoing investigation, to protect the state's interests in various negotiations, etc. - but they are limited.

It's dismaying to know that the House Majority Leader really doesn't care about letting the public know how the budget is being developed.  I was further dismayed to find out, that the legislature has legally been above the rules.

Attorney Gordon J. Tans has a lengthy treatise on the Alaska Open Meetings Law (updated in 2002):  

As applied to the Alaska Legislature, the OMA, like the legislature's Uniform Rule 22, is viewed by the court merely as a rule of procedure concerning how the legislature has determined to do business. While by its literal terms the OMA is applicable to the legislature, a violation of the OMA by the legislature will not be considered by the courts, absent infringement of the rights of a third person or violation of constitutional restraints or a person's fundamental rights.  25
In 1994 the legislature enacted a law requiring itself to adopt guidelines applying open meetings act principles to the legislature.26
This was to have been done during the 1995 legislative session, but it has still not happened as of this writing .
 This is what happens when people give up on democracy and stop voting and stop keeping their elected officials accountable.  Most of the important work of the state budget is done behind closed doors.

I don't know whether this loophole has been corrected, but I suspect not.  So now we need some citizens who can make a persuasive case that their fundamental rights are being infringed by the legislature making key decisions out of public sight.  

Perhaps our reporter should have asked Millett a followup question about government transparency and why the legislature is not following the open meetings law. 

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