Lawmakers in the Ohio House from both political parties have introduced several bills that they say will improve government transparency. But as Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, that word “transparency” is being used by both sides in different ways.
Two House Republicans have introduced a four-bill package called the DataOhio Initiative, which they say will increase transparency for local governments by making it easier for Ohioans to get data online.
The bills, sponsored by Rep. Mike Duffey of Worthington near Columbus and Rep. Christina Hagan of Alliance would require certain standards of what is public data and how it can be accessed, and would provide grants to local governments as an incentive to set up online databanks.
Duffey says the bills don’t spell out exactly what kind of data to be put online, but he thinks information about budgets, staffing and public employee salaries will be popular.
“What will rise to the surface and what will get the most amount of attention is what people really want," Duffey said. "And that’s the way we want the process to work, right? We want journalists and people to, citizens to come into their local government or to a state agency -- goose and gander, it should apply equally to the state -- and say to us, why can’t this be online?”
And that idea of government transparency has been talked about for months by House Democrats – mostly as it relates to Gov. John Kasich’s public-private partnership JobsOhio. The so-called JobsOhio Accountability Act, which would institute public oversight of the entity, was introduced in May and has yet to have a hearing. It’s sponsored by Rep. John Carney of Columbus.
“I think we can all agree -- transparency in government is a good thing," Carney said. "That’s why I’m a bit perplexed why they would close the books of state government and JobsOhio at the same time when they’re standing up saying, ‘We really need greater transparency in government.'"
But while both Republicans and Democrats are using the word “transparency," they seem to using it in different ways. Duffey says that the four Republican bills make no changes in public records law, which he notes have exceptions and areas that are off-limits, such as the home addresses of police officers. And he says public agencies have rules that don’t apply to JobsOhio.
“I’ve always said about JobsOhio, if it’s not related to job creation -- meaning disclosure wouldn’t hurt job creation -- it should be disclosed," he said. "And at the end of the day, JobsOhio is a non-profit organization. I think a lot of people are asking it to be more transparent than other non-profits.”
But Carney says Republicans seem to focus on local governments while keeping state's books shut.
“I think that where the definition seems to change, unfortunately, is with my colleagues in the Republican Party right now who seem to think, ‘Trust us when it comes to what we’re doing, but we’re distrustful of what others are doing,'" Carney said.
Democrats also say they think government transparency can be improved by corporate tax credits on line, by changing the way the Inspector General is appointed, by redrawing district lines in a bipartisan way and by broadcasting committee meetings. A bill on that last idea has been proposed, but has yet to be referred to a committee.