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VOL. 123 | NO. 59 | Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Proposals Would Enhance Secrecy for Lawmakers

By ERIK SCHELZIG | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Elected officials would be granted enhanced confidentiality protections under two measures scheduled for state Senate votes this week.

One proposal would grant lawmakers and local officials anonymity when filing complaints against businesses suspected of employing illegal immigrants. The other would close elected officials' personal contact information from public view.

Both bills were up for Senate votes last week but were delayed after objections by Democratic lawmakers.

Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, said he was concerned about creating more secrecy in government, particularly in the wake of the Tennessee Waltz corruption sting.

"Those of us who run for public office, who put our names on the ballot, ought to have our home numbers and home addresses available to the public," he said.

Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said the proposal to close home addresses would keep the media from checking out potential abuses by public officials, "whether it's diverting funds - which we've had - or whether they're using local workers or city workers to work at somebody's house."

Sen. Raymond Finney said his proposal is aimed mostly at state employees.

"It's a concept of whether we protect our employees against harassment or potential harm if an irate citizen tries to take out their frustration on an employee," said Finney, R-Maryville.

But Herron argued the measure casts too wide a net by including elected officials.

"Every county commissioner, every county official, every city councilman, every mayor, every state official, every one of them will now have this information confidential," Herron said. "The idea, I think, is not ideal."

Finney took the unusual step of refusing requests from three Democratic senators to delay a vote before finally agreeing to a fourth request by Republican Sen. Tim Burchett.

"I don't believe that we understood fully the implications of this," said Burchett, of Knoxville.

The proposal to allow elected officials to anonymously lodge complaints against businesses drew the ire of Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis.

"The right to confront your accuser is a pretty basic American right," said Kyle. "If someone is saying that you are committing a crime and you're not allowed to know who does that, that's pretty serious."

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro and sponsor of the anonymity measure, said he's concerned about retaliation from business owners.

"Because if you do turn someone in who broke the law ... then they (can) come by and shoot up your house, or torch your house, or kidnap your kids, because you did something that put them out of business because they broke the law," he said.

Ketron said his proposal follows a law he sponsored last year that requires public complaints about businesses using illegal immigrant labor to be lodged through an elected official.

A companion proposal Ketron is sponsoring this year to allow any citizen to file complaints directly with the state isn't likely to gain approval because of the price tag in a tight budget year, he said.

Ketron said his proposal would still allow businesses to seek a subpoena to reveal the names of the officials who file complaints. But Herron argued that the bill doesn't make that mechanism clear and that legal costs would make such moves unlikely without any provisions for penalties.

"We ought not to create a secret police without a remedy," Herron said.

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Read SB3668 and SB4069 on the General Assembly's Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us.


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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