Sunshine Week will be observed across the nation next week. In Iowa, the sunshine next week will be obscured by clouds — at least when it comes to citizen access to videos recorded by law officers on their squad car cameras and body cameras during incidents in which police shoot someone or when officers are fired upon.
Costs and time spent defining what qualifies as an open record in Iowa are the biggest impediments to gaining access to information about how government functions and the way public money is spent. The cluster of rules defining public records in Iowa can be confusing or leave room for uncertainty. When a dispute arises, fighting for access to information can incur expensive legal fees.
The grade might stun you — Iowa receiving a D-plus for government transparency from the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity Monday morning, Nov. 9, in a government transparency study of all 50 U.S. states. These same organizations gave Iowa a C-plus the last time they studied government transparency for a March 2012 report. How could Iowa do worse this time? Iowa has made some moves, notably forming a Public Information Board later in 2012 to better resolve complaints Iowans have about government openness.
Iowa has some of the oldest and broadest laws favoring free information and open government, but sometimes those laws aren’t followed. We’ll talk with those charged with keeping the information flowing.
Don’t expect movement in the state Senate on a House bill that would keep secret the names and addresses of people seeking gun permits in Iowa. “I’m not planning on doing any gun bills this year, period,” Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said in a brief phone conversation while heading to work earlier this week. Hogg is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which gives him the power to make that decision. Hogg sees no consensus on a variety of bills dealing with guns, ranging from making it easier to carry a gun to putting tighter controls on them. So, he said, “I’ve just sort of taken all gun issues off the table.”
Open government advocates have been paying particular attention to House File 81 in the debates over gun ownership and regulation.