Promoting Senate Transparency

Up for a first reading in the Senate this morning was Senate Resolution 842, sponsored by Majority Caucus Chair William Ligon of Brunswick, President Pro Tem David Shafer of Duluth, Majority Leader Bill Cowsert of Athens and others. The purpose of the resolution is to create a Senate Study Committee on the Legislative Process. A portion of the resolution reads,

WHEREAS, it would be beneficial to the Senate to consider and evaluate the legislative
process to determine if there are areas that could be improved to enhance efficiency, promote public confidence, increase transparency and openness, and ensure a proper deliberative approach to the making of laws….

There is created the Senate Study Committee on the Legislative Process.

Why such a resolution? You can trace its origin back to another Senate resolution sponsored by Vincent Fort of Atlanta, who many think is positioning himself for a run for Mayor in 2017. SR 833 would mandate that registered lobbyists testifying before standing committee be administered the following oath before testifying:

Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you shall give to the committee in the matter now pending before the committee shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

The measure is one of several filed by Fort that are getting under the skin of the GOP. The study committee measure is one way to fight back.

The official notice for Wednesday's Reguated Industries Committee meeting,
The official notice for Wednesday’s Reguated Industries Committee meeting,
But, let’s imagine that the committee’s goal really is to improve transparency, and “promote the confidence of the citizens of the State of Georgia in the legislative process,” as the resolution states. A good place to start would be to televise all Senate committee hearings as the House does, and archive them for viewing later. That alone would increase transparency and citizen involvement, especially for those who can’t make it to the Gold Dome during working hours.

Another way to ensure transparency would be to list the bills under consideration for all committee meetings. On Wednesday, the Senate Regulated Industries committee issued a Do Pass recommendation for the Horse racing bill and its associated Constitutional amendment, but as you can see from the picture of the meeting agenda, there was no mention that the bill would be taken up, much less voted on. Ensuring a complete agenda would promote transparency in the Senate’s actions.

And if you really wanted to increase transparency, you could make all Senate proceedings subject to the Open Records Act, from which the body is currently exempt.

Any or all of these measures, including Senator Fort’s would come with a cost, either in time, labor or equipment. And Senators must way that additional expense with the desire to be transparent. But, that’s what the study committee should be looking at.

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