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President's Message

While public attention and debate has been diverted to emotionally charged issues such as horse track gambling and same sex marriages, some members of our Eighteenth Legislature have been trafficking on little-travelled side streets-bills aimed at lessening the citizen's role in the democratic process.

Last session progress was made in the areas of ethics reform and enhancement of the role of the public in governmental decision-making. This session, however, has not been a good one as far as the public interest is concerned. While we should be enlarging the role of the citizen, where progress was once made there is now an attempt to see it eroded away again.

But, wait a minute. Isn't this the same group of legislators we elected two years ago?

If individuals had the time and energy to pore through thousands of bills (and- few do) they would discover proposed legislation, buried all over, aimed at negating their due place in the process . . . bills on everything from weakening the sunshine law to eliminating the Office of Information Practices.

For instance, a public health fund bill dealing with medical benefits for public employees called for the formation of a body to rule on benefit-related issues, but specified the committee was to be exempt from sunshine laws. Yet another bill proposed to allow state agencies to post notices through electronic means instead of through the print media. I don't know about you, but I'd be curious to see if our legislators themselves are computer literate, hooked-up at home, and able to cruise the Internet after working a long day. Certainly the vast majority of the general public is not to that point.

Another, H.B. 1866, H.D. I, could seriously erode the sunshine law by allowing government boards to hold private discussions if each participant submits "a written summary to be included on the agenda of the next meeting and no vote or commitment to vote is made or sought during the discussion."

Very little has also been addressed in the way of campaign finance reform and ethics. In fact, an attempt at erosion, if anything.

In the media, bills weakening the citizen's role in government decision-making have paled in comparison to the controversial topics of gays and gaming. As we wind down another disappointing legislative session, you have to wonder if people will remember all this at the polls.

As Milton Friedman said, "Governments never learn. Only people learn." Let's hope we do.

Jacqueline Kido

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