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Keep legislative caucuses open to the press and public

Keep legislative caucuses open to the press and public

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Open-meetings laws are a safeguard of democracy. Deliberately subverting them is about as anti-democratic as you can get.

And that’s where we seem to be with the Republican caucus of the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Barry Usher, announced Thursday that his policy would be to avoid having a quorum so caucus meetings would stay private.

“Several people including the press said for open meeting laws we must say where the meeting is and allow them in. That is true if we’re going to have our caucus, obviously, if we are going to have everyone and we have more than 50% of the committee,” said Usher, the Billings Republican. “It is my policy that when we do caucus, we will not have 50% or more of our (committee) so it is not considered an open meeting.”

This played out Thursday in ways that bordered on the absurd.

When Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, attempted to enter the caucus, he counted the members to see if his presence would put the group at a quorum. It did, so Skees left the hearing so there would not be a quorum and therefore the necessity to let the press in.

The Democrats, meanwhile, allowed reporters into their Judiciary Committee caucus.

First, what are Montana House Republicans trying to hide? The fact that there is division within their caucus? This is not breaking news.

Second, how could intentionally excluding the press possibly be considered a good-government practice? Isn’t good government more important than party politics?

Third, deliberately trying to avoid the law is not a good look for lawmakers, given recent events.

Sunlight is an excellent disinfectant, and Montana news organizations should be able to cover every aspect of the Legislature’s public meetings.

We urge Republicans to alter their caucusing policies to stop deliberately preventing press coverage. Anything less will require legal action.

The Billings Gazette Editorial Board consists of President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.



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