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Kyle wants GOP Senate caucus meetings open

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II, Associated Press • Jan 10, 2013 at 5:23 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The top Democrat in the state Senate is calling on Republicans to make the upper chamber of the General Assembly subject to open government laws, saying he wants to see more transparency in government.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said he's just trying to create more transparency in government, and "level the playing field for ideas, where they can be judged on merit, not politics."

"That's what the Open Meetings law does," he said. "By amending the rules, their deliberations will be subject to public scrutiny, as should be the standard in state government."

The Legislature does not fall under the open government laws that apply to other government agencies in the state, and it can't bind future General Assemblies to its rules. But Kyle said the chamber could adopt the open meetings laws for the two-year session that began Tuesday.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville agreed to take up the issue at a rules committee meeting Wednesday. There was some debate before a decision was made to take up the matter at a later date.

Norris told reporters after the meeting that he believes current rules address Kyle's concerns, but said he's open to an amendment for clarification.

Meanwhile, Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, questioned Kyle's motives, calling it political.

"Kyle has been on the rules committee several years," Watson said. "He certainly was in the majority party for several years. I find his timing to be interesting. This has nothing to do with transparency, this is pure politics."

Kyle noted that under former Democratic Senate Speaker John Wilder, the majority caucus meetings were open to the public, but said that has not been the case under Republican control.

Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.

Also Wednesday, members of the Democratic Senate Caucus met and voiced objection to Democrats not being included in a decision to enhance security at the state Capitol and Legislative Plaza.

The new system includes technology that scans a person's face to determine if they're wanted by law enforcement.

"I just think that many members in our caucus would have liked to have known these decisions were going to be made so we can weigh in on them," said Kyle, adding that he doesn't recall the security system being part of the budget to renovate the Capitol.

"And I'm concerned that we may be sending an inappropriate message about coming to the Capitol."

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