Government transparency takes a hit in Georgia’s 2018 legislative session

Three key bills restricting access to public information set to become law July 1, 2018.

The General Assembly session was a busy one, and that was not a positive for government transparency. Many of the bills the Georgia First Amendment Foundation opposed were approved by lawmakers and now await Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.

Legislation to shield information on lottery winners receiving more than $250,000 in state money got lawmakers’ OK. It sets a dangerous precedent.

A criminal justice reform bill significantly expands the mechanisms by which trial courts can seal court records and conceal criminal histories.

Information about foster parents can be redacted from Georgia Department of Human Services records under a bill that adds an unnecessary exemption to the Open Records Act. The measure shields information on individuals chosen by DHS to serve as foster parents.

Get a full review of all the bills we tracked and how they fared in our post-session Legislative Watch.

Legislative Watch update: Transparency threats still alive under the Gold Dome

Two bills rated “negative” by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation continue to make their way through the Georgia General Assembly.

Senate Bill 331 would allow lottery winners to remain confidential upon request. The foundation opposes this proposed legislation, which would shield information on individuals receiving significant sums of state money. It would set a dangerous precedent, despite a recent amendment to limit anonymity to winners of over $250,000. We see no way to improve this flawed bill.

Senate Bill 407 would broaden the ability of trial courts to retroactively seal court records of criminal defendants sentenced under the First Offender Act. It’s part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s multi-year legislative package to reform the Georgia criminal justice system. While many of those reforms have been positive, this proposed legislation takes a wrong step toward less transparency. The bill could be improved by aligning it with other criminal reform legislation that gives trial courts discretion to consider the public interest of criminal court records when deciding whether to seal them.

Get more details on these legislative proposals and several others we’re tracking in our updated Legislative Watch.