Originally created 03/12/06

Argument over open records laws cools



ATLANTA - Spooked by the election year, the contentious debate on scaling back the state's open records protections that marked last year's legislative session in Georgia seems eerily silent now.

When House lawmakers recently did take up a proposal that would chip away at the act - legislation that would close MARTA fare records to the public - it passed unanimously.

"In terms of open government, the volatility of last year is gone," said Hollie Manheimer, the director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and an advocate for government transparency.

The quiet could be interrupted after November's election, when GOP leaders could once again consider a proposal that would make the state's negotiations with businesses secret.

Opponents contend closing the records robs the public of the right to know what its government is doing. Its backers say Georgia is at a disadvantage to states that let businesses negotiate in private.

Since 2002, a flurry of proposals that aimed to tighten or ban access to certain open records became law in Georgia, including legislation that closed records of state transportation bids.

Some Senate Democrats are cautioning against what they say is a more subtle infringement on the public's right to know: a House bill that exempts some government notices from being required to be published in the county's legal newspaper.