Let the Sunshine in Tennessee

For the second straight year, members of the Tennessee House of Representatives remain under criticism for their use of meetings inside lawmaker offices and conference rooms to discuss upcoming legislation.

These so called meetings are packed with lobbyists and representatives of those who own the Representatives. Government experts and Democrats question the reasons for the meeting and argue the meetings undermine transparency.

Republicans claim the meetings are casual greet and meet with lobbyists and officials.

The meetings make the Sunshine law a joke. Republicans tout Sunshine Week, when media organizations get a brief peek of transparency in government.

Democrats say most of the decisions about bills are now being made in these pre-meetings, rather than in committee meetings. Unlike the secret pre-meetings, Committee meetings are held in meeting rooms easily accessible to the public, the press, live-streamed online and archived for on-demand access.

Some Democrats point out that they have never been invited to these meetings and noted… “It’s outside the public eye, and anything you’re doing behind closed doors outside the public eye, for the most part, is usually not good,” (D) Mitchell said.

The use of pre-meetings came to light last year, after a joint effort by The Tennessean, the Knoxville News Sentinel, The Associated Press, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and The Commercial Appeal discovered that at least 10 of the 15 committees in the House held pre-meetings.

Experts call these meetings “secretive” because the meetings were not publicly announced and, on some occasions, members of the media were initially prevented from attending.

The Senate does not hold similar secret meetings.

When meetings of state government are held in secret and attended by lobbyists… that cannot be good for the public. But, when your party holds a super majority… do they really care?

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