In recognition of national Sunshine Week, the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists declares its support for the open-government tenets behind several transparency initiatives at the Minnesota Legislature.
We support these efforts to ensure continued public access to government records in light of threats, to thwart efforts to keep secret public employee performance information and to shine light on instances of sexual harassment among public employees and elected officials. MNSPJ also wholeheartedly supports and endorses efforts to subject the Minnesota Legislature and its staff to the Minnesota Data Practices Act.
Among the bills being debated at the Legislature, MNSPJ calls attention to these three:
• HF 1185 – Three-year e-mail retention. The Minnesota Supreme Court’s reading of the word “official” in Minn. Stat. 15.17 (in the Kottscahde v. Lundberg opinion) has been used to narrow the types of records that must be retained by government entities. The effect of the proposed change would be to require that all government data be placed on a retention schedule that specifies the length of time it must be maintained for. Recently, some government entities (including the City of Saint Paul and Hennepin County) have started to destroy e-mails that contain data useful for government oversight. Read MNSPJ’s statement in 2017 about this issue: http://www.mnspj.org/2017/03/
• HF 1316 – Government cannot use “personnel data” exception to limit access to otherwise public video. Amends Minnesota Statutes 13.43 to specify that certain video recordings of government employees continue to be public data even when classified as “personnel data.” The bill is in response to the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in the KSTP TV v. Metropolitan Council case involving videos that contain recordings of two incidents involving the drivers of Metro Transit buses. Read more the case and MNSPJ’s position on it here: http://www.mnspj.org/2016/08/
• Rep. Lesch/O’Neill bill to institute new process to review sexual harassment claims at the House, including public reporting of certain matters. MNSPJ supports the public reporting and public process provisions of the procedural changes to the House rules.
MNSPJ along with the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) support the principles that define these bills. Without action on these important bills, the press and more importantly, the public, will be denied access to the information it needs for self-governance.
In this time of burgeoning threats to public access to information and attempts to obstruct and indeed punish journalists seeking to report the truth, MNSPJ calls on all journalists and the public to support these efforts by legislators who see the value in a free press.
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