The foundation seeks to engage lawmakers in protecting Georgians’ right to know.
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation believes our society functions best when the public has free and open access to information about what our government is doing. The General Assembly has codified this guiding principal in Georgia’s Sunshine Laws. During legislative sessions, the foundation encourages lawmakers to bolster these laws and increase transparency
Below are current legislative proposals that could help or harm open government in Georgia. We’re watching them as the spring 2022 legislative session gets underway.
These proposals have the power to strengthen government transparency and free speech.
HB 758—Applies the Georgia Open Records Act to the General Assembly, lifting exemptions lawmakers gave themselves when passing the law. The proposed legislation would require public access to records applicable to General Assembly business, including records of its committees, commissions and offices.
SB 129—Requires state and local law enforcement officers to be equipped with recording devices, starting Jan. 1, 2022, and makes video recordings of specified encounters between officers and the public accessible under the Georgia Open Records Act.
HB 279—Requires environmental impact reports be published by local governments on their official websites. This would give Georgians easier access to public information important to their local communities.
HB 107—Defines local workforce development boards and related committees as “agencies” under the Open Meetings Act to allow meetings via teleconference.
HB 31—Exempts members of the General Assembly from paying fees to obtain state government records as part of their legislative duties or to perform constituent services.
HB 167—Aims to increase Georgians’ access to public information. The language in this proposal should be fine-tuned to clarify penalties for Sunshine Law violations, support judicial enforcement of the laws and facilitate cooperation between the public and agencies from which they are requesting information.
HB 402—Expands the definition of and protections for whistleblowers who report alleged government corruption. A whistleblower’s identity would be kept confidential unless the person consents to disclosure or the public agency determines disclosure is unavoidable during an investigation. If that happens, the whistleblower must be notified at least seven days before disclosure.
These proposals have the potential to limit Georgians’ access to public meetings, proceedings and records or weaken free speech rights.
SB 226—Requires local school boards to create a complaint-resolution process that could lead to banning books from school libraries based on complaints submitted by parents or guardians that material is “harmful to minors.”
HB 289—The original intent of this bill was to detail requirements for Class C drivers’ licenses. Near the end of the 2021 legislative session, it was amended to add language from SB 171, which did not survive Crossover Day 2021 but is still alive for the 2022 session. These bills expand the definition of “unlawful assembly” and would increase potential charges and penalties for protestors, erode public employees’ free speech rights and institute other measures that would harm First Amendment protections for Georgians.
HB 271—Allows community health boards to assess a fee to match federal payments for ambulance services, with the Georgia Department of Health authorized to audit fee payments. As written, this legislative proposal would exclude DPH audits and related records from the public. Current state law and court rulings support Georgians’ right to access information about how their tax dollars are spent on such services that private companies provide to government agencies in performance of public functions.
HB 573—Permits law enforcement officers to request that local tax assessors prevent public access to the officers’ tax assessment records. The proposal would reduce access to records regularly used by the public for property valuations and other purposes. It’s also unclear whether tax assessment records related to investment properties owned by law enforcement officers would be shielded by this proposed law.
HB 404—Restricts public access to arrest records. Criminal history information would be released only after notification that an indictment, accusation or other charge has been issued or secured. This would apply to criminal history information obtained after July 1, 2021.
HB 13—Limits access to criminal history records for certain types of convictions after sentences are completed.
SB 257—Limits public access to certain criminal records held by the Georgia Information Center and allows sealing of certain criminal records maintained state superior courts.
We’re watching these proposals because of their impact on the public’s right to know.
SB 101—Provides for a judicial procedure for purging a person’s involuntary hospitalization information from criminal background checks.
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