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Battle for transparency continues in state government


"Just Another Point of View" by State Sen. Alan Olsen

Transparency is a word so over-used in the context of government that it has almost lost its meaning. Like an over-circulated dollar bill, it has become limp and frayed.

Most politicians give transparency a lot of lip service, but a tangible, practical implementation of it is a much rarer find, as I have discovered over the last three legislative sessions. Transparency should be more than just a convenient campaign cliché, it is a desperately needed quality that can help restore integrity and sincerity to our political process.

Oregon State Sen. Alan Olsen just finished the latest session of the Oregon Legislature. For three legislative sessions I have introduced a bill that would bring a tangible dose of transparency to the legislature. The bill would have required any proposed legislative amendments to have a lawmaker’s name attached to them, rather than be introduced anonymously. If you are willing to write an amendment, you should be willing to put your name on it.

The problem is citizens and lawmakers who want to track legislation are often at a loss ascertaining who exactly introduced a proposed amendment. Stopping or fixing bad public policy becomes that much more difficult when special interests and even lawmakers can hide behind anonymity. Sometimes there is no way to tell exactly who is behind an idea, even though the idea may have traction and be moving through the legislative process. Any citizen should be able to pick up an amendment to a bill and know exactly who is behind it, and how to get ahold of someone to talk about the concept.

The idea is to give the public the most accurate and detailed picture possible of what is going on in the state legislature, why, so that the public can be effectively engaged and influencing state law. Putting names on amendments helps make that more of a reality.

Secret dealings and hidden amendments make for bad public policy. It breeds confusion and misinformation and hamstrings constructive discourse and compromise.

Transparency, on the other hand, breeds honesty and sincerity. It forces lawmakers to introduce ideas they are truly passionate about and are not ashamed of associating their names and political careers.

Perhaps most importantly, this type of transparency kills corruption. With more money, special interests and powerful lobby groups involved in politics than ever before, simple transparency efforts like this go a long way in maintaining integrity.

Moneyed interests groups could find it too easy to push unpopular legislation through secret amendments. Such manipulation could be eliminated with simple transparency.

The version of this proposal I introduced this year, Senate Bill 596, was sponsored by 65 members of the legislature, two thirds of all elected Senators and Representatives, both Republicans and Democrats.

Despite the overwhelming support, the bill was given one hearing and then left to languish. Unfortunately, the legislature is no more transparent today than when it convened in February.

I plan on introducing this legislation again in 2014. Perhaps the fourth time is the charm. Transparency should be more than just a word politicians use.