By Keith Anderson, Columnist
Recently we told you about a bill regarding public access to critical data that was waiting for the governor’s signature.
Senate File 1770 had already received unanimous support in the House and the Senate. Known as the Timberjay bill, it would require that all government contracts with private business be subject to the Minnesota Data Practices Act, even if that open access is not specifically identified in the contract.
Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton signed that bill, demonstrating that he understands and agrees with the public’s right to open access to government data.
Dayton did veto a portion of the bill that would fund a study by the Office of the Legislative Auditor to learn how secure state systems are at protecting and transmitting data. He said it’s not fiscally responsible to appropriate an ongoing amount of money without articulating the cost to perform the new duties outlined in the law.
Also excluded from the notice requirement until June 30, 2015, are health plan companies, managed care organizations and county-based purchasing plans.
As for the bulk of the bill, dealing with citizen access to government contracts with private companies, the governor’s signature is like an infusion of white light in an environment that can sometimes feel a little smoky and mysterious.
It is critical that our legislators understand the importance of free and open access to government data and this bill does a solid job of continuing to reinforce that principle. Journalists are accustomed to dealing with the thorny prospect of data requests, sometimes feeling as though there are several moguls that must be flattened before getting critical information.
But citizens should never feel timid about making such requests nor should they feel as though they are asking for something that is reserved for elected officials’ eyes only. This bill helps ensure that, whether a citizen is making a request of a state-level contract or something negotiated at the school or city level.
As a society we operate best when open access to data is free flowing. One of our missions as newspapers is to make sure that process is being protected and respected.
This bill signing was a victory for citizens throughout Minnesota. For that we acknowledge the efforts of House and Senate members who continue to see the critical relationship that exists between open government and informed citizens. And we offer our sincere appreciation to the governor for signing a bill that, at the end of the day, ensures no crack or crevice can escape the necessity of a very revealing light.
Keith Anderson is the director of news for ECM Publishers Inc.