New Government Gag Rule Added to Ohio Budget Bill Without a Public Hearing

Bill Restricts Agencies From Providing Public Information; Defers to Corporations

A bill that would restrict state, county and municipal agencies in Ohio from providing information that is currently freely available has been added to the state budget bill without a public hearing. People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas called the measure “an outrageous attack on the public interest” and urged state senators to remove it from the budget legislation.

“This should be called the ‘make the people pay’ act. Much of the information in question pertains to resources that the public pays for with tax dollars,” said Neas. “How can lawmakers justify forcing Ohioans to pay corporations for public information that the companies get from the government, often for free?”

The proposed law, the Electronic Government Services Act, would restrict a state government agency from providing information to the public if two or more competing private enterprises publish that information for sale. It would dramatically limit public access to information generated with public tax dollars—even as an article in the Plain Dealer (4/23) noted, preventing tourism officials from promoting festivals and other public events on a government website.

The bill which was introduced by Rep. Steve Buehrer, is based on a model bill promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national organization that promotes right-wing and corporate legislation often at odds with the public interest. Representative Buehrer has served as an ALEC co-chair for Ohio. ALEC model bills are drafted by their Task Forces, co-chaired by a corporate leader and a state legislator. A recent report by Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which calls ALEC Corporate America’s Trojan Horse in the States, documents that the vast majority of ALEC’s funding is provided by corporate sponsors who stand to benefit from the passage of ALEC model legislation.

“This bill illustrates the ideological extremism of an anti-government organization whose commitment to the private sector trumps the public interest,” said Neas. “Legislators owe it to their constituents to reject ALEC’s ready-made, right-wing legislation. Much information that is now available for free on state agency Web sites could disappear if the bill is passed. What would that mean for seniors on fixed incomes? For community leaders without access to Lexis and other expensive commercial services? Of all the urgent problems facing Ohio taxpayers, too much access to public information is clearly not one of them.”

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