Today is the last day of Sunshine Week across the nation, a week when we all celebrate “access to public information.” That may not be a March headline-grabber, but access to public information is far more important than shamrocks or basketball.
Candidates for office typically tout their “commitment to transparency” because they know it will garner votes. It’s an important issue to many, and rightfully so.
Access to public records plays many vital roles in TCWN’s everyday work to protect and restore water quality across the State. It is only through public notices that TCWN can review proposed permits that regulate sewage treatment plants. It is only through access to public records that TCWN can shine a light on repeat polluters.
And access to public information is the most critical component of government oversight.
Which is why I was disturbed to read this week about the public’s lack of full access to “pre-meetings” in our State House. Pre-meetings, or bill reviews, are briefings during which legislators are educated further about the piece of legislation on which they will vote in a committee or subcommittee.
No doubt, our legislative Representatives need the discussions that take place in these rooms. We cannot expect them to be experts in all issues. And we want – need – them to be as informed as possible.
But when there are lobbyists and legislators in the same room, and the public has limited or no access to or input at the meeting, there’s a serious problem.
You and I mostly rely on our legislators and State agencies to act – pass laws and make rules – in our best interest. We really have no other choice. Who can afford their own personal lobbyist?
That’s where TCWN comes in.
TCWN was built on the mission of empowering YOU, Tennessean, to claim your right to clean water.
A large part of that mission is reading, analyzing, and commenting on water-related rules and legislation on your behalf. It requires a high level of expertise to understand the complicated issues related to water quality, and TCWN has the help of a statewide network of clean water experts, environmental groups, and advocates like you.
That network includes lobbyists. In order to discuss proposed legislation with those State Representatives, TCWN must either employ or hire a registered lobbyist – just like industry does. And I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that there are far more industry lobbyists than lobbyists who represent environmental advocates, or that they have bigger budgets.
Protecting the water quality in Tennessee often requires a fight, and TCWN is no stranger to those battles. With support and funding from members, TCWN continues to represent you in these matters so that you know someone besides industry lobbyists is actively involved in the legislative and rulemaking process.
So drop a note to your local State Representative and tell them you are concerned about the lack of sunshine in House pre-meetings, and you would like to see, at a minimum, official meeting notes, but – ideally – audio or video webcasts of the discussions taking place in those rooms. That’s a reasonable request.
Then become a member of TCWN so that voices from all 95 counties in this great state can speak collectively and mobilize effectively against those who would pollute – or make it easier to pollute – our precious waters.