Despite her contention to the contrary, Arizona Gov. Jane Hull proved a fickle friend of the open conduct of public business when she vetoed Senate Bill 1143 in late May.
The bill contained many improvements to laws that insure that important decisions affecting the lives of Arizonans are made in the full light of public scrutiny. Key provisions would have:
- made it clear that public bodies could issue an "open call to the public" so that citizens could raise topics not included on formal agendas;
- clarified who can attend an executive session of a public body;
- required more specifity in notices of executive sessions;
- made it easier for the attorney general or the county attorney to investigate potential abuses of executive sessions.
Bringing more public access to the decision-making of powerful state and local officials is never an easy process. As Arizona Newspapers Association Executive Director John Fearing noted, "Progress in improving these laws has been very slow and very difficult ... Along the way we have faced determined opposition from a number of powerful public officials."
The ANA worked with the Legislature over three sessions to have these new provisions included in state law. But Gov. Hull vetoed the bill, making a legally questionable assertion that it did not go far enough in making committees of the Legislature subject to open meeting requirements. In light of this, she also objected to the Legislature's expansion of the law to include advisory committees appointed by her.
Considering how difficult it is to make gains in public access to decision-making, a better strategy to address these concerns would have been to approve SB1143 and to have worked to improve on it next year.
Our legislators should know they did the right thing in sending SB1143 to the governor's desk -- and that they should do it again next year.