Harwell Opposes Changes to Tenn. Open Meetings Law

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

NASHVILLE (AP) – House Speaker Beth Harwell has voiced opposition to efforts to water down Tennessee's open meetings law and has called on a Republican colleague to drop a bill seeking to make changes to the current rules.

Spokeswoman Kara Owen said in an email Tuesday that Harwell does not support efforts to allow members of local governments to meet behind closed doors as long as a quorum isn't present.

Owen said Harwell had spoken to Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin and that he agreed not to pursue the bill this year.

Casada acknowledged he talked with Harwell and has asked the Tennessee County Commissioners Association to talk with their members and "make sure we're going down the right path that everybody wants to."

"So until they all get in agreement, I'm not going to carry something that we're not all in agreement on," he said. "We'll look at it this summer and go from there."

Frank Gibson, public policy director of the Tennessee Press Association, said he applauds Casada's decision.

"The majority of the county commissioners that have considered this proposed change have rejected it and we think that it's an acknowledgement that the sunshine law has served the citizens of this state well for almost four decades," Gibson said.

Harwell joins Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in opposing the measure. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville has said he's against weakening open government laws but agrees with proponents that some of the current open meetings rules are too onerous.

Sen. Ken Yager, the chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, has also been vocal about changing the law, saying it would prevent transparency and undermine the public's trust in government.

"Citizens need to understand how government decisions are made," the Harriman Republican said recently. "Lack of transparency prevents the public from actively participating in government and from raising questions or expressing their opinions."

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