Lawmakers take step to restore public’s trust

Published 6:00 am Monday, March 12, 2001

The public’s right to know won a victory this week with passagein the Senate and House of a bill that requires most legislativeconference committee meeting to be open to the public.

The passage of the legislation represents a major change inpolicy and allows the public to keep a better tab on theirlegislators. Leading the effort was Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, HouseSpeaker Tim Ford of Tupelo, Sen. Hob Bryan of Amory and Rep. BillyMcCoy of Rienzi. We applaud our local legislators who supported theeffort, especially Rep. Jim Barnett D-Brookhaven, who co-authoredthe House bill.

Let us point out that the rule change does not open the meetingsjust to the news media. The meetings will be open to the generalpublic, so anyone can attend.

While the bill is a tremendous step forward for openness ingovernment, it still has problems. It exempts conference committeemeetings involving appropriations legislation, and it also must berenewed in two years.

Legislators came under fire last year when it was discoveredtheir retirement benefits had been increased in a secret conferencecommittee meeting during the waning days of the 2000 session. Aspecial session was called during the summer to rescind the benefitpackage.

While lawmakers have responded to public outcry and opened theirconference meetings, our hope is they will go another step forwardand include appropriations meetings and eliminate the reverterclause for 2003.

Public trust is important in our system, the legislature’sactions are a good step toward rebuilding the damage from lastsummer’s secret retirement perk. Further openness will only makethat trust stronger.