The House adjourned Thursday for our traditional two-week furlough for Easter. Before we left town, we had a lot of work to do so we could vote on all of the legislation still pending on the House floor so we may start fresh when we return on April 9th.
Here are four items of note that the House debated this week:
RESTRUCTURING – The House approved legislation that would allow the state Adjutant General to be appointed by the Governor. The legislation – actually a state constitutional amendment – gives the voters of our state the right to decide this in the November 2014 election.
Currently, we are the only state in the country that elects our Adjutant General, and the current holder of the office, General Bob Livingston, has been very outspoken in his support of the amendment. It is important to have someone with experience leading our National Guard, which is not guaranteed if it remains an elected position. This bill now goes to the Senate.
“SWEEPSTAKES” – The House also approved legislation that bans the “Sweepstakes” machines that some businesses are installing across our state by exploiting a loophole in the law. This comes a dozen years after the state Supreme Court banned video poker.
FOIA – The House sent legislation to reform our state’s Freedom of Information Act back to a committee to strengthen the bill. We support reforming the “FOIA” to make government information more accessible to the taxpayers who fund the government.
An amendment was added to the bill late in the process that would eliminate the “legislative exemption”. We support reforming the exemption. However, in the weeks since the amendment was introduced, a number of issues have arisen. Constituents frequently write legislators about issues with the Department of Social Services or the Department of Revenue that have private and confidential information in them. Also, the House does not currently have the full-time staff or technology available to effectively comply with a new Freedom of Information Act while preserving the privacy of our constituents. We don’t want to inadvertently create an issue that would require the state to spend millions of dollars to comply.
In addition, constituents contact us on private e-mail addresses, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets. Archiving that information is not easy.
We can solve these issues easily, and the committee is the best place to do so. We will fight to get this back out of committee and to the House floor again as soon as possible.
ETHICS – The House began the ethics reform process with two reform bills in a subcommittee hearing on Thursday. As with the FOIA legislation discussed above, it has been decades since we have substantively updated our strong ethics laws. Social Media, cell phones, electronic campaign contributions, even ATMs and credit cards were not widely used (or even dreamed up) when the ethics laws were written. We look forward to diving into this issue when we return from our furlough after Easter.