Legislative Breakfast explores emerging open government issues in 2020 General Assembly

Transparency implications of proposed legislation dominated the discussion at the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s annual Legislative Breakfast on Jan. 23.

State Sen. Jen Jordan, state Rep. Josh McLaurin, Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist James Salzer and First Amendment attorneys Tom Clyde and Peter Canfield examined issues emerging in the General Assembly session, including bills that would:

  • Limit public access to criminal records
  • Impose restrictions on journalists
  • Require “truth-in-taxation” transparency
  • Curb private companies’ control over access to public records
  • Require all-party consent for recording non-public conversations

The lawmakers gave their take on the viability of these measures and offered behind-the-scenes perspectives on how business gets done under the Gold Dome.

The breakfast was held at the Georgia State University College of Law in downtown Atlanta. It was co-sponsored by student chapters of the American Constitution Society and the Black Law Students Association.

2019 GFAF Legislative Breakfast recap

Panelists discuss transparency issues related to sexual harassment reporting, voting machines, schools and hospitals as the Georgia Legislature opens.

(L-R) Tom Clyde, James Salzer, Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid, Marissa Dodson, Sen. Jennifer Jordan and Cynthia Counts.

A panel of elected officials, First Amendment lawyers and a seasoned Gold Dome journalist weighed in on potential transparency threats emerging in the 2019 General Assembly session during the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s annual Legislative Breakfast on Jan. 24.

On the agenda: New rules for filing sexual harassment complaints against lawmakers. Big changes to Georgia’s voting system and a potential $150 million price tag. Eroding access to public school operations and performance. And a move to add visibility to the business operations of many hospitals.

The lively discussion took place at the Georgia State University College of Law. Co-sponsors of the event were the GSU chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, the Black Law Student Association and the Latinx & Caribbean Law Student Association. First Amendment attorney and GFAF board member Cynthia Counts moderated the discussion.

If you missed it, we’ve got you covered with a video of the event. Highlights include:

  • State Sen. Jennifer Jordan laments the proposed new sexual harassment policy lawmakers unveiled as the 2019 session started (start at the 2:38 mark).
  • Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid, a GFAF board member, says the City of Atlanta’s transparency problems were an eye-opener for other local governments and describes how agencies should respond to open records requests from citizens (6:32).
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s longtime statehouse journalist James Salzer wants the Legislature to abide by the same transparency laws that lawmakers have placed on local governments (9:25).
  • Marissa Dodson, public policy director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, talks about the role of statewide Accountability Courts and data available to the public to measure their success (16:42).
  • First Amendment attorney and GFAF board member Tom Clyde weighs in emerging open

    Tom Clyde

    government issues, including the loss of transparency in school testing and possible added insight into the business operations of many of Georgia’s hospitals (22:25). He also lays out what Georgians don’t know about the proposed changes to voting processes and new voting machines (46:40).

The full video also provides a lively debate about the role of police body cameras and a more detailed conversation about Georgia’s shift to new voting machines and processes.

Register now: GFAF Legislative Breakfast, Feb. 1

Join us for the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s annual Legislative Breakfast, where public officials, newsmakers and members of the media will join in a discussion of open government issues emerging in the 2018 session.

2018 GFAF Legislative Breakfast

Co-sponsored by the GSU Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

7:30-9 a.m., Thursday, Feb. 1

Georgia State University College of Law • Knowles Conference Center

85 Park Place NE • Atlanta, GA 30303

The event is free for members and $10 for nonmembers. Register now. 

Panelists:

  • State Rep. Wendell Willard, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
  • Cobb County Commissioner Lisa Cupid
  • CNN Executive Editor Samira Jafari
  • First Amendment Attorney Tom Clyde of Kilpatrick Townsend
  • First Amendment Attorney Peter Canfield of Jones Day (moderator)

Among topics for discussion: courtroom recordings, police body camera videos, electronic court filings, judicial watchdog transparency and more.

The GSU College of Law is at the corner of John Wesley Dobbs Avenue and Park Place in downtown Atlanta. Visitor parking is available for $7 in Deck M (entrance on Auditorium Place). Also just a block from Marta’s Peachtree Center Station. Detailed directions can be found at http://knowlescenter.law.gsu.edu/contact-us/

 

Register now: Foundation’s Legislative Breakfast, Jan. 26

This event now SOLD OUT! Join us for the 2017 Georgia First Amendment Foundation Legislative Breakfast at 7:30 a.m., Jan. 26, at CNN. Public officials, newsmakers and the media will join us for a discussion of First Amendment issues emerging in the 2017 session. Register now. The annual event is free for members and $10 for nonmembers.

Get a preview by reading about GFAF’s top legislative priorities for this year’s session. Want a sense of what you’ll see at the Legislative Breakfast? Check out videos of last year’s discussion, courtesy of Nydia Tisdale:

  • GFAF board member and Legislative Breakfast panelist Cynthia Counts, a First Amendment lawyer, explains what legislation against a “strategic lawsuit against participation,” or anti-SLAPP, means and why it matters to free speech. The discussion came a few weeks before GFAF and other groups helped usher through the most effective legislative protection of free speech rights in Georgia in 20 years. It was a major First Amendment victory for Georgians, bolstering their right to comment on matters of public concern.
  • Listen to former WSB-TV legislative reporter Lori Geary talk about how the Georgia Senate conducts the public’s business in secret.
  • Hear board member and First Amendment lawyer Peter Canfield describe how legislation related to drones is increasingly important for newsgathering.
  • Board member Tom Clyde, a First Amendment lawyer, explains how criminal justice reform efforts could have an impact on the public’s access to information about criminal records.

We look forward to seeing you at our 2017 Legislative Breakfast.

 

GFAF Legislative breakfast/Legislative Watch Vol. 1

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.