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Government and Politics

Ohio Democrats and Republicans introduce transparency bills
Both political parties say theywant to improve government transparency, but differ on what they want to be transparent about

Karen Kasler
Rep. Mike Duffey, co-sponsor of the DateOhio Initiative, says he thinks information about budgets, staffing and public employees salaries will be popular to the public.
Courtesy of Ohio House of Representatives
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Lawmakers in the Ohio House from both political parties have introduced bills that they say will improve government transparency. But as Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, that word “transparency” is being used by each side in different ways.

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Two House Republicans have introduced a four-bill package called the DataOhio Initiative, which they say will increase transparency for local governments by making it easier for Ohioans to get data online. The bills sponsored by Rep. Mike Duffey of Worthington, near Columbus, and Rep. Christina Hagan of Stark County would require certain standards defining public data and how it can be accessed. The package also would provide grants to local governments as an incentive to set up online databanks.

Duffey says the bills don’t spell out exactly what kind of data should be put online, but he thinks information about budgets, staffing and public employee salaries will be popular. 

“What will rise to the surface and what will get the most amount of attention is what people really want. And that’s the way we want the process to work, right? We want journalists and people, citizens, to come into their local government or to a state agency – goose and gander," Duffey says. And he says that should apply equally to the state.

But is the state going the other way?
That idea of government transparency has been talked about for months by House Democrats – mostly as it relates to Gov. John Kasich’s public-private partnership JobsOhio. The so-called JobsOhio Accountability Act, which would institute public oversight of the entity, was introduced in May and has yet to get a hearing. It’s sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Carney of Columbus. 

“I think we can all agree – transparency in government is a good thing. That’s why I’m a bit perplexed why they would close the books of state government and JobsOhio at the same time when they’re saying, ‘We really need greater transparency in government’.”

While both Republicans and Democrats are using the word “transparency," they seem to using it in different ways. Duffey says that the four Republican bills make no changes in public records law, which he notes has lots of exceptions and areas that are off-limits. They include the home addresses of police officers. And he says public agencies have rules that don’t apply to JobsOhio. 

Pushing the locals while exempting the state
“I’ve always said about JobsOhio, if it’s not related to job creation – meaning disclosure wouldn’t hurt job creation – it should be disclosed. And at the end of the day, JobsOhio is a non-profit organization. I think a lot of people are asking it to be more transparent than other non-profits.”

But Carney says Republicans seem to focus on local governments while keeping state books shut. 

“I think that where the definition seems to change, unfortunately, is with my colleagues in the Republican Party ... who seem to think, ‘Trust us when it comes to what we’re doing, but we’re distrustful of what others are doing.'” 

Democrats also say they think government transparency can be improved by listing corporate tax credits on-line, by changing the way the Inspector General is appointed, by redrawing legislative district lines in a bipartisan way, and by broadcasting committee meetings. A bill on that last idea has been proposed, but has yet to be referred to a committee.
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