The Saline Courier Weekend

HB 1399 seeks to take government actions out of public view


We love the state of Arkansas.

It’s full of dichotomou­s beauty. Like the Ozark Mountains and the Mississipp­i Delta, both are beautiful for different reasons. With talent ranging from Al Green to Johnny Cash to Justin Moore, Arkansas’s musicality is as wide ranging and diverse as its people.

We’re also a state of firsts, some good and some bad. Central High School was the first high school to integrate its students, and the first state to ban doctors from performing gender-affirming treatment for trans youth. Arkansas had the first Walmart store, was the first state to mandate computer science classes for high schoolers, and is the first state whose first lady ran for President of the United States.

Elected representa­tives in the Arkansas Legislatur­e are currently introducin­g and reviewing a bill that would be another first for us. If this bill passes, we would be the first generation of Arkansans to be less informed than our parents about government activities that impact each of us.

Legislator­s have re-written a bill that works for the public into a bill that works for them.

If House Bill 1399 passes, it would allow Arkansas cities and counties to conduct the people’s business without publishing details about it in local newspapers. Alternativ­ely, these same legislator­s who are most definitely internet-driven individual­s are assuming that the rest of us have the time, patience and broadband connectivi­ty in every corner of the state’s 75 counties to search online and find notices about how they are spending taxpayers’ money.

Or, perhaps they are hoping you won’t be able to see what their idea of “small government” is your city government policing itself and assuming the watchdog role assigned to the free press.

This bill isn’t complicate­d; it removes newspapers from the process allowing government to make moves without a checks and balance. A Constituti­onal conservati­ve would see the flaw there.

Newspapers are the town criers. We are the independen­t watchdogs, without prejudice, that are easily accessible at the corner convenienc­e store or newspaper rack for readers who are not as ‘wired’ for online searching as our elected representa­tives.

As an official newspaper of record, we provide verificati­on in the form of copies of the printed pages and affidavits that the cities and counties met obligation­s and that the message was delivered to readers. And we archive every publicatio­n so it can be searched regardless of security breaches, unlike what happened in the fall as municipali­ties were pulling together delinquent tax lists.

How does this affect you? Suppose you look out your window and see bulldozers and constructi­on workers building a gas station where your neigbhbor’s house used to be. If you read the newspaper, you might have known about the rezoning plans and variances granted well before the workers showed up.

But under the proposed bill, the Legislatur­e is putting the onus on you, the citizen, to track city and county websites to keep tabs on what your elected leaders are doing.

Open meetings, the freedom to access informatio­n that should be public and notifying citizens about how government­s spend the taxpayers’ money are the areas that belong outside the government.

Why would Arkansas legislator­s deter community government­s from openness and transparen­cy? That’s not smaller government. That’s a government that’s too big for its britches.

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