The minority leader of the state Senate has called for the Tennessee General Assembly to follow the Sunshine Law in all of its deliberations. Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said last week there needs to be more transparency when legislators conduct business on Capitol Hill.
He suggested leaders of both the Republican-controlled House and Senate should follow the Open Meetings Act, which applies to every government body in the state except for the General Assembly. Kyle said adopting the Sunshine Law as part of the rules of the two chambers would “level the playing field for ideas, where they can be judged on merit, not politics.”
Republicans were quick to question Kyle’s motives, with one suggesting his request was simply a political stunt. Unquestionably, Kyle — a veteran member of the Senate who never made such a call when his own party controlled the General Assembly — was looking to put the Republican leadership on the spot. Yes, it probably was a political move to ask that the General Assembly follow the Sunshine Law, but it’s also good public policy.
Transparency was certainly something Republicans championed a decade ago when their party was in the minority. That was when then-state Rep. David Davis, R-Johnson City, led the effort to make sure all votes taken by legislative subcommittees are properly recorded and posted on the General Assembly’s website for public inspection.
While the General Assembly conducts most of its business in the open, budget leaders from the House and Senate often meet privately at the end of a legislative session to hammer out deals on the new state budget. This is a practice that must end. These secret meetings are partly responsible for the lack of confidence many Tennesseans now have in their state government.
To restore public trust in the legislative process on Capitol Hill, lawmakers must let the sun shine in on all their deliberations.