Categories
Featured News NewsTracker Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

TN Gets ‘D Minus’ for Online Access to Gov’t Spending

Tennessee ranks among the worst states in the nation for sharing state spending documents online, but slightly redeems itself by offering up salary info about its highest-paid workers, according to a recent study.

The Volunteer State’s “D minus” for providing online access to government spending data is the lowest among all but one of its neighboring states, totalling 51 of a possible 100 points, according to the Following the Money 2012 report from the U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups. Tennessee tied with Vermont to come out ahead of only 10 states in the rankings.

But Tennessee leads the pack in providing salary information for state employees online, including a searchable database where users can sort incomes by agency or focus in on individual agency heads.

The governor’s office says there’s always room for improvement.

“The administration has been looking at possible upgrades to our transparency site both from a content standpoint and an IT/functionality standpoint, but that takes time if we’re going to get it right,” Gov. Bill Haslam’s spokesman Dave Smith said in an emailed response.

The study examined the state’s open government web page, assigning it a 0 out of 10 on all these measures:

  • Ability to search online for expenditures by contractor or vendor name
  • Ability to search expenditures by type of service or item purchased either using a keyword search or selecting from a list of categories
  • Providing information on tax expenditures
  • Posting specific information or copies of state contracts.

Tennessee got 4 out of 10 points for providing information about economic development expenditures and grants.

Categories
Business and Economy Education Environment and Natural Resources Featured News Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Haslam Bills Meet Resistance

Last week was trying for Gov. Bill Haslam after a number of his high-profile bills faced turmoil and criticism from both Democrats and the GOP faithful in the Legislature.

Haslam has dozens of legislative initiatives he’d like the General Assembly to pass this year, ranging from lowering the tax on food to overhauling how state workers are hired and fired.

Here is a breakdown of the status of some of his proposed bills:

Classroom Sizes Bill A Bust (SB2210/HB2348): Haslam spent weeks trying to sell the public on increasing pay for teachers in challenging schools and difficult subjects by letting districts adjust average class sizes. No dice. The governor dropped that plan after hearing teachers and lawmakers argue stacking more students in the classroom is a bad idea.

Ownership Trips Up Economic Development Bill (SB2207/HB2345): The administration wants to collect certain financial information on businesses wanting tax breaks but says companies will only comply if the state keeps that info secret. There’s been some resistance from the Legislature, where leaders say info on the winning companies should be public. Edits are in the works. The bill faces floor votes in each chamber as early as Thursday.

State Employees Steps Away from TEAM Act (SB2246/HB2384): Haslam wants to do away with “bumping,” which lets laid-off state workers take jobs of lower seniority workers, creating a domino effect. The state employees union says Haslam’s plan could lead to political hiring and firing and stopped negotiating with the administration. The bill is now in State and Local Government committees to be heard Tuesday.

Inheritance Awaiting a Price Tag (SB3762/HB3760): For all the Republicans’ enthusiasm for reducing the tax on inheritances, Haslam’s plan to up the $1 million exemption to $1.25 million hasn’t budged. The office that estimates the fiscal impact of legislation has yet to calculate the price tag for this bill, which is why it hasn’t moved.

Slice the Food Tax Also On Hold (SB3763/HB3761): Lawmakers across the political spectrum are hungry to reduce the food tax, although some want it cut differently. Haslam’s proposal would drop the 5.5 percent tax to 5.3 percent. Lawmakers have placed this bill on the back burner, parking it in finance subcommittees while awaiting an estimate of its fiscal impact.

Boards and Commissions Begin To Move: (SB2247/HB2385SB2248/HB2386SB2249/HB2387): The governor wants to eliminate redundancies by restructuring 22 state boards and commissions, including a panel that oversees Haslam family-owned gas stations. The Senate unanimously OK’d one bill shifting some duties from the Board of Probation and Parole to the Board of Correction Thursday, but two other bills have yet to be heard in committee.

Categories
Business and Economy News Transparency and Elections Video

ECD Secrecy Bill Reconsidered

A Haslam administration-backed bill that would prevent government from disclosing the names of company owners or key corporate officials seeking state taxpayer-funded business incentives has stalled in the Tennessee Legislature.

Senate Bill 2207 is meant to allow the state to mine and scrutinize the financial details of businesses applying for tax-subsidized grants. It also contains confidentiality provisions meant to assure companies their proprietary information won’t end up making headlines.

But both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters this week they favor rewriting the measure with the intent of addressing transparency concerns many lawmakers and open-government advocates have voiced.

“Private companies just do not want all that information divulged, and that’s understandable,” said Harwell, R-Nashville. “On the other hand, citizens have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used and spent, and I think we’re going to come up with what will be pleasing to both of those.”

The issue of primary contention is whether to reveal company ownership. The measure, pitched by Gov. Bill Haslam, now calls for businesses to submit information like budgets, cash flow reports and a list of owners to the Department of Economic and Community Development. The department says such information would help vet companies wanting state dollars for investing in Tennessee.

The state doesn’t ask for those details now because they would be made public, putting the Volunteer State at a competitive disadvantage with states that obtain such information and keep it closed to the public, administration officials say.

“I think there are some folks like that who are like, ‘We’ll, we’re trying to decide are we going to invest in Tennessee or Indiana or Florida or Texas or wherever,’ and they might be a smaller, privately owned company,” Haslam said in defending the bill Wednesday. “As long as they don’t intersect in anybody in the public sphere, I’m not certain why we need to know that.”

Ramsey and other critics say they’re OK that most financial details be private, but that ownership should be made public eventually.

“Should these people, any business or company, get a grant, get FastTrack money or whatever it might be, the information is divulged at that time. That’s the intent,” Ramsey told reporters Thursday.

The measure is up in the Senate Thursday. Since the state currently doesn’t collect that information, the state is “no worse off” if the bill doesn’t pass, he added.

Categories
News NewsTracker Transparency and Elections Video

VIDEO: Taxpayers vs. Transparency? Give-and-Take with the Guv

A Gov. Bill Haslam-backed legislative proposal to offer secrecy to businesses applying for millions of dollars in state grants is up for a vote in the Senate Thursday.

Last week in Nashville during the Tennessee Press Association’s Winter Convention, Elenora Edwards, managing editor of TPA’s statewide trade publication, took the governor to task somewhat on that and other transparency-curbing administration initiatives.

Check out their exchange:

Categories
Business and Economy Liberty and Justice Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

Watson Working for Tax-Ruling Transparency

Hixson Republican Bo Watson backed off state legislation this year that would bring transparency to so-called “private letter rulings” — written statements issued to taxpayers from tax-collection agencies — because he was satisfied with efforts by the Tennessee Department of Revenue commissioner to do it on his own.

But even Sen. Watson remains uncertain if the effort for more openness is workable, because of privacy issues related to the rulings.

Private letter rulings have become a point of attention in the state this year because of the ongoing controversy over Amazon.com and its exemption from collecting sales taxes. Speculation has risen that Amazon may be benefiting from a letter ruling from the state, but such information has never been made public.

In fact, Watson said his dealings with Commissioner of Revenue Richard Roberts on making letter rulings more public have had “zero” to do with Amazon in particular. He — and apparently Roberts — just want more openness on the letter rulings issued by the department. An effort to reach Roberts on Wednesday was unsuccessful.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported Wednesday night that the Department of Revenue has initiated a shift in policy from the previous administration. The report said the department has issued 40 letter rulings this year and that 17 redacted versions will be made public, with another 15 still under review and eight kept secret.

Watson, the new speaker pro tem of the Senate, this week described some of the difficult issues surrounding letter rulings apart from the Amazon controversy. But he also spoke about his thoughts on the Amazon issue. The company is establishing two distribution centers in the Chattanooga area, one in Hamilton County and one in Bradley County. Watson’s district is part of Hamilton County. A third Amazon center is planned for Lebanon.

Watson said conversations have gone well with Roberts in trying to open up the letter rulings.

“Revenue has been working with me very cooperatively in trying to figure out a methodology that we might be able to do that,” Watson said. “The challenge is the privacy issue.”

There are two types of private letter rulings. One addresses a specific tax question as it relates to a specific business. Then there are letter rulings where a specific company asks a question but the answer has general application.

“So you want the public to be advised of those letter rulings that have general application,” Watson said. “How do you achieve that without revealing the source of the letter ruling?”

Watson’s SB0902 would require that a copy of any revenue ruling or letter ruling issued on or after Jan. 1, 2008 be made available for public inspection in accordance with current public records law. It calls for posting the ruling on the department Web site within 15 days of the date of the ruling, and it calls for the commissioner to redact from the ruling anything, like a name or address, that may identify the taxpayer who requested the ruling.

Watson said he introduced the bill because businesses had had frustrations with the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen, whose term ended this January.

“They would go in with a tax situation and find out that there had been a letter ruling about it, but they didn’t know anything about the letter ruling. So it frustrated their business process,” Watson said. “So anyway, I introduced a bill to make private letter rulings more public.

“The challenge is that much of the information has to be redacted because obviously a business’s tax information is their private proprietary information if they ask a specific tax question. If the tax question has general applicability, how do you get that answer out to the public without revealing the source of the question?”

Simple deduction comes into play, he said.

“If a large company asks a question and you describe them as a large company with X number of employees, people will figure out who asked the question,” Watson said. “The commissioner, in our conversation, said, ‘Look, we’re going to be much better about issuing the response to these letter rulings than perhaps in the past.'”

Watson said Roberts believes the department can make changes without necessarily having a law to do it. Watson is going to sit back and see how it goes. If the department is unable to achieve the goal, then Watson said he would at least pursue debate on the issue.

Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, chairman of the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee, this week said he appreciates efforts in the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam to address transparency on letter rulings. McNally has been an active player in the attempt to get Amazon to collect the sales tax.

But the issue of letter rulings is just one facet of the broad tax-collection ramifications surrounding Amazon and other online retailers. Haslam recently said he wants Amazon to collect sales taxes in a way that satisfies Amazon and the state. Haslam has also said he wants the state to honor its original commitment to Amazon, which was made by the Bredesen team.

Watson said he was not surprised by Haslam’s remarks and that that’s what he thought would happen all along. He said he got the impression there would be more discussions from what he heard in legislative hearings on Amazon this year.

When Haslam first made public remarks this month about wanting Amazon to collect the taxes, Watson said he was in San Antonio for the legislative summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures and got a heads-up phone call from Warren Wells of the governor’s staff to let him know about Haslam’s comments.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who was at the San Antonio conference, did not get a similar phone call.

“He did not get a call from the governor last week, but they have had ongoing discussions about this issue,” said Adam Kleinheider, a spokesman for Ramsey. “So his comments did not surprise him in any way, and he is 100 percent on board with the governor.”

The NCSL summit included a discussion of e-commerce issues. A similar session was held at the Southern Legislative Conference last month in Memphis.

“As Internet commerce continues to grow, we’re all going to have to recognize that this is a new business model, and states, along with the federal government, are going to have to figure out a way to create tax equity among all the various means of commerce,” Watson said. “I don’t think it’s reached the tipping point where Congress is going to be motivated to act.

“If you’re Amazon, you want tax equity with all the other Internet retailers that may be working under the same model you’re working under — just as the bricks-and-mortar folks want tax equity with the Internet folks.”

Watson said he hasn’t had much contact with retailers since the Legislature adjourned this year, but he has heard from constituents who say a deal is a deal and that original agreements with Amazon should be honored. He said the only contact he has had with Amazon other than the hearings was a five-minute meeting in his office prior to the committee meeting.

Watson said people need to remember that the sales tax still applies to the transaction and the question boils down to who collects the tax, not whether it is owed.

“The state doesn’t aggressively pursue that, and I don’t think we’re going to encourage them on small-ticket items to aggressively pursue that,” Watson said.

Haslam has said Congress needs to settle the issue for the states.

“All states are trying to figure out how to deal with this new marketplace,” Watson said. “The challenge is how do we modernize the law to marry up to the new Internet commercial market that in the last five years has grown exponentially?”

TNReport.com is an independent, not-for-profit news organization supported by donors like you!

Categories
NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

It May Be ‘Sunshine Week,’ But TN’s Transparency Forecast is Partly Cloudy

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is among politicians and government officials from around the country who got called out by USA Today over the weekend for adopting anti-transparency measures.

Specifically, writes USA Today, Gov. Haslam “blithely exempted himself from state financial disclosure rules” with his first executive order after assuming the governorship.

The editorial writers lament that even though state and federal governments “now have laws that largely require public bodies to meet in public and make government records available to citizens…politicians, bureaucrats and law enforcement officers who don’t want the voters to know what’s going on obstruct access to information and decision-making.”

According to USA Today:

This is Sunshine Week, an annual event sponsored by advocates of open government to call attention to the ongoing struggle over the public’s access to what’s being done in its name. (Wednesday) also marks the 260th birthday of James Madison, father of the First Amendment and the man whose copious notes of those debates inside the Constitutional Convention, when eventually made public, became the accepted historical record of how our government came to be.

As these and other struggles show, an ongoing sunshine effort is indispensable. Absent public scrutiny, politicians, law officers and bureaucrats will act like the 18th century aristocrats in their zeal to keep the public in the dark.

TNReport.com has compiled what information the Haslam administration has made available here.

Categories
Featured News Transparency and Elections

Haslam Sticks to Disclosure Stance

Saying he’s been consistent about his thoughts on financial disclosure issues for more than a year, Gov. Bill Haslam defended his recent decision to eliminate previously established requirements that top government officials reveal their private income, including stockholdings and business investments.

And a sizable majority of Tennesseans are apparently “comfortable with (his) position” on the matter, otherwise they wouldn’t have voted for him, the freshly sworn in 49th governor of Tennessee told reporters in his first official press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday.

“I’m not certain what (divulging investment income) adds to the process,” Haslam said. “Again, I said that all here during the campaign: I think it’s really important where. But how much? I’m just not certain what difference that makes.”

The new guidelines for powerful executive-branch employees are now on par with financial disclosure requirements in place for members of Tennessee’s part-time citizen legislature.

Haslam deflected any suggestion that eliminating former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s standard for revealing levels of, and returns on, financial investments in any way undermines the new administration’s stated  “commitment to transparency and openness in state government.”

Haslam asserted that his policy of requiring officials to reveal generally what they own — if not exactly how much they own — is consistent with “the highest ethical standard” of potential conflict-of-interest disclosure.

“I don’t think that next step of telling exactly what the amount is makes a difference,” said Haslam.

A recent administration press release announcing the new disclosure guidelines stated that “(t)he rule should be, the more you can be in the open, the better.” Another transparency-related executive order issued over the weekend declared it “the unwavering policy of the Executive Branch to facilitate the right of Tennesseans to know and have access to information with which they may hold state government accountable.”

Gov. Haslam’s Executive Order No. 1 requires that he and the 29 other ranking administration officials, as well as their deputies and assistant commissioners, disclose only where their money comes from, not how much. The order nixed Bredesen’s policy on disclosing not only the source of income, but the level.

The new governor also told Capitol Hill reporters Wednesday that he’s seeking to create an administrative culture that is not in any way perceived as arrogant, but rather is efficient, knowledgeable, frugal and respectful.

Haslam spent a lot of time during the campaign season fighting off critics for refusing to disclose his holdings in Pilot Oil Corp., a multi-billion dollar truck stop chain owned by the Haslam family.

On Wednesday House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said he’s somewhat disturbed that the governor would weaken transparency rules instead of strengthen them.

“I think he would set a good trend for his administration if he’d go back and rethink his position on that,” said Turner. “I actually think right now that what we do (disclose) is pretty low-ball, to be honest with you. I think we should probably disclose more, myself.”

However, Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell told TNReport she isn’t bothered by the new governor’s disclosure policy.

“Disclosing the sources is the most important part of ensuring there are no conflicts of interest,” Harwell said though her spokeswoman. “I have every confidence that the administration is committed to maintaining the integrity of these offices and positions.”

Here’s a sampling of the press conference Q&A between Haslam and reporters Wednesday:

Reporter: There’s been quite a bit said about this executive order regarding the income disclosures. Why did you decide to change the standards for you and your administration?

Haslam: It’s consistent with what I said all through the campaign of the position I’ve taken there is no difference… It’s important that everybody understand where your sources of income and where your investments are. I didn’t think the amount mattered. I was real clear about that during the campaign. Obviously a whole lot of discussion. In the end I think the people of Tennessee were comfortable with my position.

Reporter: But it’s not the highest ethical standard – clearly there’s a higher ethical standard that you’re not achieving.

Haslam: I disagree. I mean, I think it is the highest ethical standard. We’re telling everybody exactly what we own. I’m not, you know, I don’t think that next step of telling exactly what the amount is makes a difference. Everybody needs to know what you own and your sources of income. That’s very important, so I actually think it is the highest ethical standard.

Reporter: Why not say how much?

Haslam: Well I’m not certain what it, what it adds to the process.  Again, I said that all during the campaign. I think it’s really important where. But how much? I’m just not certain what difference that makes.

Reporter: What if you had someone who said they had a very small amount of income verses someone who had a large amount of income. Wouldn’t that shed some light on their potential conflicts of interests?

Haslam: Well, again, if they report that they have that – it’s a company that they regulate, for instance – then that’s out there right now. People can assume they might own 100,000 shares of it or 1,000 shares. The conflict, the potential conflict in the situation still exists. I don’t think it matters. And you, you all if you’re doing your job know, Ok – here’s commissioner so-and-so, he has – he or she has this investment that that’s out there pretty clear.

Reporter: For at least the past 32 years governors have released that sort of information – tax returns and such. Were they wrong to do that?

Haslam: Well, I mean, everybody gets to make their own decision.  Again, this is no different than what I’ve been saying for over the, for actually the last 16 months.  And everybody in the state of Tennessee… every one of you wrote an article about it and covered it. I don’t think there was anything new, and we’re gonna work to be consistent, and again I think the people of Tennesse felt very, very comfortable with that when the vote came.

Reporter: During the campaign you constantly compared yourself to what other candidates had given, but in this case you are releasing less than what other governors have given.

Haslam: That’s not – that’s not true.  And we’re doing the exact same thing – same thing that’s required in the General Assembly, the exact same thing that historically most governors, a lot of governors, have done in other places. And again, I go back to this: I was real clear, there was no secret about any of this and how I felt about that when I ran, and ultimately, again, I think the people of Tennessee felt very comfortable with it.

Reporter: Did you indicate that you would rescind Mr. Bredesen’s first order during your campaign?

Haslam: I don’t know if that ever came up, but I was real clear. I mean, I don’t think there was any lack of clarity about what I said I was going to release or not release during the campaign, so there was zero percent confusion about that.

Reporter: Were you worried about the perception of that? You talk about the one chance to start fresh, and this is the first thing you do.

Haslam: Sure. And we could have waited and said and done that three weeks from now, but, you know, it’s something that, again, I was very clear about during the campaign. Why not go ahead and do it. I’m not worried about the perception because I think the reality is this: if there’s a chance, if there’s an interest and if there’s a conflict, everybody is going to know what that is. Everybody understands that investment. I honestly don’t think this is, I do think this is the highest ethical standard, and it’s no different than what I’ve been saying all along.

Reporter: In the press release you put out, it didn’t mention the fact that you were making major changes in terms of people no longer having to disclose their federal income tax return. Was the press release in any way misleading?

Haslam: Well, I don’t think – I’ll let you all be the judge, I honestly don’t think that . Again, we were being very clear about a decision we had made, and again, it was consistent with what we’d said. I mean, if this is something I’d never talked about during the campaign, it would be one thing, but literally, I think the issue, you know, we started talking about it a year before election day.

Reporter: Does this help you get some cabinet members, who otherwise might be uncomfortable disclosing all their assets?

Haslam: No, I don’t think we had one person who said I’ll only come if this – I can honestly say that didn’t happen.  Again, it’s just being consistent with what I’ve said for over a year.

Reid Akins contributed to this report.

Categories
Press Releases

Haslam Announces 45-Day Freeze on New Rules and Regulations

Press Release from Gov. Bill Haslam, Jan. 19, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today announced a 45-day freeze on any new regulations and rules as part of the top to bottom review of state government.

Haslam also announced the formation of four Cabinet working groups on Safety and Security, Jobs and Education, Efficient and Effective Good Government and Services.

“Our goal is to ensure that state government is customer service focused,” Gov. Haslam said. “A thorough review is one way to assist overburdened businesses wrestling with the economic downturn.”

The governor exempted any rules or regulations from the suspension that would pose an imminent threat to public health or safety or are required in order to conform to a court order.

“In our commitment to transparency, it is critical that we weigh the benefits of a rule or regulation to consumers along with the cost of impacting jobs,” he said.

Gov. Haslam asked each commissioner to take immediate steps to identify those rules and regulations that fall within the time frame. The Office of Consulting Services in the Department of Finance and Administration will coordinate the process.

“To attract and retain high quality jobs, Tennessee must maintain a business-friendly environment,” Gov. Haslam said. “State government should do everything it can to create the best possible environment for job growth.”

The Safety and Security working group consists of the following departments and agencies: Safety, Correction, Military, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Highway Patrol.

The Jobs and Education working group consists of the departments of Economic and Community Development, Agriculture, Commerce and Insurance, Financial Institutions, Labor and Workforce Development, Revenue, Tourism and Education.

The Efficient and Effective Government working group is the departments of Finance and Administration, Environment and Conservation, Transportation, Human Resources, Veterans Affairs and General Services.

The Human Support working group consists of Children’s Services, Health, Human Services, Intellectual Disabilities and Mental Health.

Categories
Press Releases

TNDP Criticizes Haslam Admin. Financial Disclosure Policy

Press Release from the Democratic Party of Tennessee, January 17th, 2011:

Gov. Haslam Starts His Tenure On Wrong Foot By Dismissing Income Disclosure Rules

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to eliminate the requirement for him and his top aides to disclose their total yearly incomes gives the impression that the new administration would rather govern behind closed doors.

“Tennesseans deserve a state government that is responsive to their needs and transparent in its operation,” Forrester said. “Coming out of the gate with this kind of executive order is disconcerting. “Our government should be more transparent and open, not less. The governor and his staff should be above reproach when conducting state business. Removing the disclosure requirement does nothing to assure citizens government is working on their behalf. If anything, that makes people more skeptical of their government.”

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen required his top administration officials to disclose their total yearly earnings when he came into office in January 2003. Haslam received much criticism during his gubernatorial campaign for failing to disclose his income from family owned Pilot, a national truck stop chain with annual revenues estimated at $20 billion.

Haslam signed an executive order removing the disclosure requirement soon after taking the oath of office on Saturday. His order requires top administration officials to reveal sources of income only, not amounts.

Several of Haslam’s Cabinet members have extensive business dealings in the private sector.

“The General Assembly is also proposing several pieces of legislation that would hamper our ability to know how decisions are being made,” Forrester said.

Forrester pointed out that the General Assembly is mulling legislation that would remove public notices from newspapers, close emergency 911 records and dispatches to the public, close email communications among state and government officials to the public, and make people pay for access to any public record.

“We should not roll back laws and regulations that make our government more accessible to us,” Forrester said. “Too many sacrifices have been made by too many good people to allow this to happen.

“Our elected officials have a responsibility to represent the people who allowed them to serve. Restricting the public’s access to government is not the will of the people. Gov. Haslam and some other members of the state Legislature should remember that going forward,” he added.

Categories
Press Releases

AARP Rep Joining State Comptroller’s ‘Sunshine’ Committee for Open Govt.

Press Release from AARP Tennessee, July 2, 2010:

Governor signs bill adding AARP representative to Open Government Committee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — AARP will help bring “Sunshine” into Tennessee by joining a group that advises government agencies on provisions of the law requiring them to conduct business publicly.

Gov. Phil Bredesen signed legislation this week adding an AARP representative to the Tennessee Advisory Committee on Open Government. The committee works under the Comptroller’s Office of Open Records Counsel, which advises agencies on the state “Sunshine Law.” The law says in part that “the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”

Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open government, said he was pleased that lawmakers agreed to add a representative of AARP, a non-partisan membership organization representing more than 600,000 50+ Tennesseans.

“Tennessee’s open records and public meetings laws were enacted to provide the transparency citizens need to participate in the operation of their government,” Gibson said. “It’s appropriate that the legislature recognized that by adding AARP to represent that public interest on the Advisory Committee.”

Comptroller Justin Wilson will choose someone for the four-year term from three names that will be submitted. “AARP believes it is important for all Tennesseans to see, hear, and understand the work of our elected officials. We are honored to join the League of Women Voters and Common Cause in representing the interests of citizens across this state on this important committee,” said AARP Tennessee Advocacy Director Patrick Willard.

The legislation, sponsored by Republican Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville and Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, was approved unanimously last month. It also adds representatives from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriffs Association, expanding the committee to 14 members.