Members of a House committee debated Thursday whether lawmakers’ names should no longer be anonymous when making public records requests to North Dakota Legislative Council.
The House Government and Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 2222, which would require that any record from North Dakota Legislative Council that relates to a request made by legislative council or a state lawmaker be a public record.
When lawmakers make open records requests through legislative council their names aren’t public as having made the request. All other members of the public as well all other public officials on the local and state level are public.
SB2222 passed the Senate by a 44-3 vote last month.
Prime bill sponsor Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, said the bill creates transparency for legislators. Flakoll said the bill stemmed from multiple occasions over the past two years in which lawmakers made requests for very large volumes of records.
“SB2222 is about allowing us to say ‘go ahead and make the request, but we want the taxpayers to know who is making the requests and having them paid for with taxpayer dollars,’” Flakoll said.
Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said the committee’s responsibility is to decide whether or not it’s good public policy to allow a lawmakers’ name to be public as to what requests they made.
“It’s not like you’re asking for a secret document from Mars; it’s already out there. Would I be afraid of having my name released? No,” Carlson said.
Committee chairman Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, said providing that information is “more than a name.” He said it could also reveal what a lawmaker may be working on for a bill.
Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said the bill could open the door to more lawmaker records to be open. He said it could also be used by the public to track who’s most active in making requests.
“Is this going to turn into a scorecard?” Koppelman said.
Carlson said each lawmaker is already scored based on each vote they make on bills during floor sessions.
Jack McDonald, an attorney with the North Dakota Newspaper Association, said transparency was critical and questioned the exemption for lawmakers.
Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dickinson, asked McDonald what the bill means to the media to have a lawmaker’s name.
“It’s just another news item,” McDonald said. “The more info … the better the story.”