August 13, 2015 Print

Photo credit: Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, license CC BY 2.0.

When government negotiates behind closed doors, outside public scrutiny, taxpayers are at risk. Atlas Network partner the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) has been pushing for years to bring sunlight to public-sector collective bargaining in the state, and a new law that took effect in July may make Idaho’s open meetings law the “best in the nation,” according to IFF President Wayne Hoffman.

“The reform expanded Idaho’s OMA to cover all governing bodies, including school boards, cities, counties and fire districts, as well as their designated representatives,” wrote F. Vincent  Vernuccio, director of labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, an Atlas Network partner in Michigan. “The change was specifically targeted to police and fire union negotiations, closing loopholes under previous law.”

Idaho has had an open meetings law since 1974, Hoffman noted, but that earlier law allowed for several exceptions — including labor negotiations — that could happen out of public view. Although some negotiations can still be held privately, the documents involved are now subject to public disclosure. There are also provisions for sensitive employee-specific information that could potentially violate personal privacy rights.

“Labor union reps worked with me and state lawmakers to carve out this compromise,” Hoffman wrote. “Both local government officials and union officials said, independently of one another, that they felt the closed sessions were more harmful than helpful. Opening labor negotiations to the public, thus increasing transparency—for the positive—would improve the demeanor of the discussion.”

IFF has been advancing free-market public policy since its founding in 2009, with a mission that aims “to hold public servants and government programs accountable, expose government waste and cronyism, reduce the state’s dependency on the federal government and inject fairness and predictability into the state’s tax system.”