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Executive sessions and closed meetings: Who should be allowed to listen?

Nebraska committee hears arguments for continuing to allow journalists in closed sessions
Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 6:08 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - The Nebraska Legislature’s Rules Committee on Tuesday debated whether to exclude media from executive and closed sessions, just like the public.

The proposal was brought forward by State Sen. Dan Hughes of Imperial to close executive sessions to the press in order to allow for better outcomes, especially when dealing with sensitive topics.

Sen. Hughes argued: “I have, whenever there is press in the room, I have held back. I have not put forth my best arguments to craft the best possible legislation that we can in our process and that’s very unfortunate.”

Senator Dan Hughes, District 44
Senator Dan Hughes, District 44(Nebraska Legislature)

He said there used to be a “gentlemen’s agreement” in closed sessions where elected officials would not be quoted without permission and those quotes were taken out of context.

“Burn me once, shame on me. Burn me twice, shame on me,” Hughes argued. “We have to have some security that our comments will not be taken out of context and reported.”

The proposal is met with opposition by the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, including Media of Nebraska and Lincoln Journal Star representative Dave Bundy who spoke in front of the committee Tuesday afternoon.

“With the events at our nation’s Capitol last week, I would say transparency goes beyond holding government accountable. I would say it’s essential in holding our nation together,” Bundy stated as he added the adopting this rule, “strikes a blow at open government.”

Senator Steve Erdman, District 47
Senator Steve Erdman, District 47(Nebraska Legislature)

State Sen. Steve Erdman, Dist. 47, argued it’s “everybody or nobody.”

“I cannot figure out why the media should have privilege over those who voted for us and those who pay taxes,” Sen. Erdman added. “If the media is allowed into executive sessions, so should the public. "

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