Lawmakers planned Tuesday to amend one of the two special session bills to remove a controversial provision which would have created a new exemption to the state’s Freedom of Information law regarding money the state sends to businesses.
Andrew McDonald, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief legal counsel, said the provision was added to the bill as a response to an FOI request from the Norwich Bulletin. He said the newspaper asked for information regarding every company that inquired about the possibility of participating in the First Five program.
“Obviously the state is very interested in being able to nurture leads and negotiate with companies to relocate or expand in the state. The simple fact is that companies won’t have those discussions if they don’t have confidence the discussions will be confidential until they bear fruit,” McDonald said.
The proposal was an effort to exempt those discussions and negotiations from the public until the point when the state and a company reached an agreement, McDonald said. After that they would be made public if they weren’t protected under some other FOI exemption, he said.
But by Tuesday morning the provision had been met with criticism from media outlets across the state. After the House gaveled in for special session House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey said an amendment was being drafted to scrap the Freedom of Information changes.
McDonald said the language that was drafted into Tuesday’s implementer was broader than the administration intended. Instead they decided to take more time to find a way to protect negotiations without undermining the Freedom of Information law, he said.
“We are trying to serve multiple masters here. The governor is very supportive of open and transparent government and at the same time he wants to grow economic development opportunities in the state as much as possible,” he said. “This issue shows the tension that can exist between those competing goals.”
Sharkey said drafting an amendment to remove the provision was less time consuming than rewriting the underlying bill.
“We didn’t want to go through the trouble of reprinting the entire 600 page bill with that omitted,” he said.
Sharkey said there were objections from lawmakers when they found the legislation was more far-reaching than they originally understood it to be.
“It was something that we didn’t really see until it was brought to our attention, quite frankly,” he said.