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ONMA legislative update, including pending open government issues

By Monica Nieporte, Executive Director

Monica Nieporte with captionIt has been a busy couple of weeks at the Ohio Statehouse. In addition to trying to get our own legislation introduced about adding open meetings to the court of claims process and getting an anti-SLAPP bill moving again, we have been researching and weighing in on a few other topics.

The good news is there are no surprises in the state budget from either a business or access to information standpoint. Granted, amendments can change that so we will be vigilant to make sure nothing unexpected happens.

The Ohio Department of Commerce is tweaking some language that will allow them to use any electronic medium or print medium of the director’s choosing as a supplemental way to get the word out about unclaimed funds. Initially we were concerned that they might be trying to shift away from the print notices but they remain intact and the department is a big fan of them. They say they far and away get the most response from the ads you run in your papers.

Walt has already had lunch with their marketing person and is putting together a proposal that includes print and digital campaigns through AdOhio to help them with those supplemental efforts. We are also asking members to draw some extra attention to the lists when they are to appear in your paper. Have your editor put something on your Twitter or Facebook feed, run a few house ads to let people know the list is coming or run a web ad that links to the list “in case you missed it”. This will help you generate buzz about something that is in your paper and you may sell a few more single copies that day or drive some extra traffic to your site. It is also great value added for our important customer, the Department of Commerce, and any extra effort we make that seems to generate more activity for them will only make them want to do more business with us in the future.

And as always, don't forget to make sure your papers are uploading all notices to Public Notices Ohio.

Another conversation we’ve had recently is with the Ohio Department of Health regarding three community boards the department seeks to set up in response to public health issues: Drug Overdose Fatality Review Committees, Fetal-Infant Mortality Review Boards and Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Boards. The state is seeking public records exemptions for all three boards. Many of the topics that would be discussed by these boards and many of their records would fall under already existing exemptions so I’m trying to get some clarification from them about what other types of information they are concerned about. My concern is that these are topics of high community interest, particularly drug overdose fatalities, and I know our editors and reporters want to be able to write stories about the efforts of these committees if one is formed in their community. I’ll keep everyone posted as this develops.

We have also voiced support to HB 46, which would make Ohio Checkbook a permanent part of the Ohio Treasurer’s Office, along with SB 107, which is supported by the Ohio Secretary of State and would establish a process for local candidates to file campaign finance reports electronically. This would give journalists and citizens easier access to the reports.

There have been a few other bills that expand the classes of people who can keep their personal information confidential – most recently 911 dispatchers and mental health professionals – but all of this has a journalist exception and quite frankly, it would be a losing battle because so many other public safety employees are included already. It would be a hard case to make that a probation officer should be allowed to keep their address private but a 911 dispatcher cannot. If someone really wants to know who these people are and where they live, I suspect someone can find out regardless of these restrictions. The important thing from our perspective is that our reporters still can verify information and find out what they might need to know in the pursuit of a story and that appears to be unaffected in these instances.

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