Bill Proposes More Open Government Meetings

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) – A proposal in the state Senate would require more government meetings to be open to the public and expand the possible penalties for violating Ohio’s open meetings law.

The legislation proposed by state Sen. Shannon Jones, a Republican from Springboro, has prompted concern among some public officials who worry that it could make it more difficult for them to do their jobs, the Dayton Daily News reported.

Jones’ proposal would expand the types of discussions subject to the Ohio Open Meetings Act, part of the Ohio Sunshine Laws requiring government meetings or discussions about public business to be public.

The current law says the decision-making body of a public organization must take action or hold discussions related to public business during “pre-arranged” meetings that are open to the public. Under the proposed changes, unscheduled discussions about public business among the majority of members of a public body would have to be public. Government officials who get together for information-gathering purposes also would have to make those meetings public.

The bill also would expand fees and expenses that may be recovered for violations of the act. It also would require more details to be included in the public motions required to hold closed-door meetings, also known as executive sessions. Public bodies can use those sessions to discuss subjects such as pending legal action or the purchase of property.

Jones told the newspaper that her intention is to preserve the law and protect the public. She said the current law is as a “pretty good one,” but needs to be clearer.

“Public business should be done in public,” and it’s better to err on the side of the public’s right to know, Jones said.

Larry Long, executive director of the County Commissioners’ Association of Ohio, said some county officials are confused about when a gathering would be considered a meeting under the bill. He said officials worry that they could break the law just by attending community events where another member is present and a government issue might be mentioned.

The law applies to all state and local government agencies, but changes could be more troublesome for county commissions, which usually consist of only three members, Long said.

The association also is concerned about proposed changes that would replace the word “deliberations” with “consideration or discussion” in some sections of the bill. The group questions whether changing the language would create a new interpretation or standard that could lead to lawsuits.

Josh Hahn, the association’s senior policy analyst, told The Associated Press on Monday that the group is hoping that some changes can be made in the proposed legislation to address the concerns.

A message seeking comment was left at Jones’ office Monday.

The bill has been assigned to the State Government Oversight & Reform Committee.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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