GFAF Legislative Breakfast: Experts warn against erosion of open government

Georgia’s General Assembly makes up its own rules for open records, meetings and transparency, and that means much of the business that gets done under the Gold Dome happens behind closed doors.

The frustrating fact that the state’s Open Records and Open Meetings laws don’t apply to the Legislature was among topics discussed at the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Legislative Breakfast, held on Jan. 28 at WSB-TV, which sponsored the event.

WSB-TV political reporter Lori Geary and First Amendment attorneys Peter Canfield, Tom Clyde and Cynthia Counts, three members of GFAF’s board of directors, discussed what’s happening in the legislative session that could affect speech rights, newsgathering and access to public records. Moderator Hollie Manheimer, GFAF executive director, led the panelists through a wide-ranging discussion that included:

  • Pros and cons of proposed legislation on using drones for commercial and newsgathering purposes.
  • Possible legislative changes to Georgia’s law against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) actions and how they could affect speech rights.
  • A review of the portion of the governor’s Criminal Justice Reform legislation that could permanently seal some police and court records from the public and the press.

Citizens, political leaders and journalists in the audience asked questions about legislative actions and how they could push for greater transparency and access to public information.

Among the attendees was Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, the 2015 recipient of GFAF’s annual Weltner Award, which honors champions of open government.

In conjunction with the event, GFAF released volume one of its annual Legislative Watch — a list of proposed legislation that could help or harm government transparency in Georgia.