Irony Alert! Georgia Lawmakers Close Hearing…on Sunshine Reform!

Because Georgia lawmakers are catching a ton of flak after a witness who equated domestic partner benefits with the End Times apparently has…well, received some less-than-flattering response, the organizers of a hearing aimed at making government more open (?) closed a hearing and banned video coverage. Seriously.

Before voting Monday to advance an overhaul of the state’s open government law, a House subcommittee voted to banish the taking of photographs and video from the hearing.

Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, made the motion, saying that video taken at a prior hearing had been put on the Internet and used to harass a witness.

Willard later identified the witness as Tanya Ditty, state director of Concerned Women for America, who testified in opposition to House Bill 630, which would protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals from discrimination in the public workplace.

Ditty said one reason her group opposed HB 630 is that it would extend the same protections to a variety of sexual orientations, including pedophilia and necrophilia.

After the hearing, Wendell said he cherishes the right to free speech and said the Judiciary Committee will hear testimony from any witness, regardless of his or her opinions and positions. But he said he was upset at what happened with Ditty’s testimony going viral on the Internet.

“This seemed to me to be more about intimidating people,” he said. “That’s unacceptable.”

At the hearing, Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, said those taking videos of witnesses needed to act responsibly. But he said he opposed Willard’s motion because it infringed on the freedom of the press.

“We do have a Constitution … and that kind of interferes with that,” Bruce said of the motion.

If you choose to appear at a public legislative hearing and make your group’s views extremely public, then, to paraphrase the United States Supreme Court, you have thrust yourself into the vortex of public opinion…shame on the pols for a cowardly reaction to a perfectly predictable response.

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A Nice Look at the Secrecy Epidemic In California…

A former student, Brian Joseph, with a nice look at secrecy in California:

Critics of California’s in-home supportive services program believe there may be scores of people like Joowan Kim.

In February, Kim pled guilty to fraud and is serving three years probation for cheating the program out of $33,345. For nearly two years, Kim claimed to be caring for her developmentally-disabled son in Cypress when in truth he was living at a facility in Buena Park.

Many believe in-home supportive services, which permits family members to become the paid, in-home caregivers of sick and elderly relatives, is rife with this sort of abuse. But the public may never know if it’s really a problem because all caregiver records are secret under state law. Independent review is impossible. Fraud, potentially, is concealed.

This is how it is in the Golden State. Secrecy has seeped into every corner of state government, making it difficult to gauge Sacramento’s effectiveness and discretion. An Orange County Register review of the Government Code found at least 500 provisions that exempt specific records or information from public disclosure while another 16 code sections prohibit the release of broad categories of documents, including every complaint filed with a licensing body or investigatory agency, all communications with members of the Legislature and any document whose release does not serve the public interest. Official secrets are held in every office and department in state government, from food and agriculture, public health and the DMV to corrections, social services and the Legislature, where the Assembly recently made headlines (and drew a lawsuit) over its refusal to release documents related to members’ current budgets.

A Trillion Dollars on Secrecy Since 2001: Indeed, We Do Have a Spending Problem…on Secrecy

American Civil Liberties Union

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In the years since 9/11 the United States government has spent over a trillion dollars on national security measures that have increased government secrecy exponentially. A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, “Drastic Measures Required,” illustrates the vast and systemic use of secrecy, including secret agencies, secret committees in Congress, a secret court and even secret laws, to keep government activities away from public scrutiny.

“Our government has reached unparalleled levels of secrecy,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Though this administration’s attempts to be transparent are laudable, the reality has been that it is just as secretive as its predecessor. Congress has the tools to curb this excessive secrecy but it must be more aggressive in using them. It’s time to drastically overhaul the way our government classifies information.”

“Drastic Measures Required” highlights the significant powers Congress holds under the Constitution to stem the tide of government secrecy: the authority to regulate the military and national security activities, as well as the tools to investigate executive branch authorities. The report lays out specific recommendations for Congress to help turn the tide of excessive government secrecy –including reforming the misused state secrets privilege, strengthening congressional oversight of national security programs and enacting legislation to limit and regulate the executive branch’s classification power.

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A Fun Story: Pentagon Papers, Sans 11 Magical Words, To Be Released

Great story on NPR about the government finally releasing a document that has been in public circulation for 40-plus years….