Senate Bill 1362 — Attorney general role in potential open meeting law violations

Senate Bill 1362 — Attorney general role in potential open meeting law violations

by
Lindsay Atkinson
March 3, 2020
Lindsay Atkinson
March 3, 2020

Bill description: SB 1362 would allow a person or organization to petition the state attorney general to take action regarding a potential open meeting law violation if the area prosecuting attorney does not.

Rating: 0

Does it in any way restrict public access to information related to government activity or otherwise compromise government transparency or accountability? Conversely, does it increase public access to information related to government activity or increase government transparency or accountability? 

For the sake of supporting transparency, Idaho has open meeting laws that make the interactions of elected officials (their meetings) open to the public, except in certain circumstances (like executive sessions). This bill would support transparency by allowing those who complain about a potential violation of open meeting laws to their county’s prosecuting attorney (the proper authority in state law if the violation occurred on the local level) to seek intervention by the attorney general if the prosecuting attorney does not take action.

Specifically, if they receive a notice that the local prosecuting attorney will not investigate their complaint, they can petition the attorney general’s office to review it. If the attorney general’s office finds that it should be investigated, it will refer the complaint back to the county. If the prosecuting attorney still takes no enforcement action, then “the attorney general may pursue such nonjudicial remedies as he deems appropriate.”

This process adds a new layer to investigations of potential open meeting law violations that does not currently exist. 

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SB 1362 also specifically requires a prosecuting attorney’s office to give notice to the individual who filed the initial complaint if it decides not to investigate the potential violation. This notice should be given within 14 days after receiving the initial complaint. Only after receiving this notice may the individual petition the attorney general, though there is a provision to petition even if written notice is not received. 

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Even though this bill adds a new layer to accountability with open meeting laws, it does not provide any sort of accountability for prosecuting attorneys that do not take action. 

This bill is legless in regards to holding prosecuting attorneys accountable. It specifically says that "If the prosecuting attorney takes no action for the alleged violation, he shall provide notice in writing of his reasons for taking no action" to the person who filed the complaint. This clearly mandates that prosecuting attorneys need to notify those who complain if they are not going to take action regarding the complaint. 

Yet, in the very next paragraph, it shows there is no consequence if the prosecuting attorney does not provide such notice. In fact, the bill has written in the assumption that some prosecuting attorneys may not provide notice by stating: "In the event that there is reason to believe that a violation of the provisions of this act has been committed by a local public agency and the prosecuting attorney takes no action, a person affected by the violation may, within ten (10) days of receipt of the written notice...file a petition with the office of the attorney general for review of the prosecuting attorney's inaction. If no written notice from the prosecuting attorney has been provided within fourteen (14) days from the complaint, a person affected by the violation may still petition the attorney general."

And that is the end of any mention about the notice of inaction. There is no consequence if the prosecuting attorney does not provide this mandated notice. 

This is bothersome because it is a direct result of the inaction of the prosecuting attorney that an individual, who is just trying to ensure that government is accountable, has to petition the attorney general to get some sort of action and, according to this bill, pay a $50 fee for that petition.

SB 1362 provides a barrier to accountability by making anyone who files a petition with the attorney general’s office pay a filing fee with that petition. Thus, this bill financially punishes those that have to turn to the attorney general because of the inactivity of their prosecuting attorney.

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Does it increase government spending (for objectionable purposes) or debt? Conversely, does it decrease government spending or debt? 

This bill will also make the state government pay for inactivity by local prosecuting attorneys. Since, under this bill, the state attorney general’s office will have to become responsible for inactivity on the part of local prosecuting attorney offices, it is likely the state will have to hire an additional deputy attorney general and paralegal. This will cost $204,300 for the first fiscal year after this bill becomes law and $153,600 a year after that, adjusting for inflation and/or pay raises.

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