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Open loopholes lead to closed doors

Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Like many of us, I get much of my information about what's going on around me from the newspapers. We get two, so we get a pretty broad look at opinions. However, sometimes the words I read don't help me understand what I am reading. How can that be?

I have started looking up some of these words. I started with "loophole." The first meaning was confusing and did not seem to apply: "A narrow vertical opening usually widening inward, cut in a wall or other defense to allow the passage of missiles."

Scanning down the page, I came to meaning number three: "An outlet, or means of escape often applied to an ambiguity or omission in a statute, which affords opportunity for evading its intention."

It took me a while, but as I thought about this for a few days, I began to see the connection. Our state has an "open meetings law" which makes it illegal for elected officials to vote behind closed doors. Our elected legislators have found a way to hold secret meetings: a loophole.

It seems to be OK to have secret meetings for discussing "political strategies" and "procedural matters." But who can know what strategies and matters are really going on behind that closed door?

My newspapers used that word, "loophole," in an article about the ethics panel when it decided that a closed caucus was OK, as it had to do with one of the permitted subjects. Now, was this loophole a narrow vertical opening for the firing of missiles? Have we been struck by a some kind of projectile that came at us when we thought we were safe?

Or is it a loophole that allows lawmakers to get around the intent of the law? Or is it both ?

I think about the song the lawyer sings in the play "Chicago." It's something about "razzle dazzle": How can they hear the truth above the roar? Razzle-dazzle them. Don't let them get wise. How can they see with bright lights in their eyes?

I think we have been razzle-dazzled with words and phrases that have meanings that can be "loop holed" to fit whatever the need might be. I have not yet figured out how a vote can be "procedural." I do think political strategies should be taking place at political caucuses during political meetings, not during legislative sessions.

The work of our Legislature should be governmental strategies in open meetings that we all can be in on.

Perhaps we need to turn that razzle-dazzling light on in our state House and Senate and illuminate some things that need to be changed.

Jean Kimple is a retired first grade teacher from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. She is a member of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of Alaska and has been an active member of the local League for eight years.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government. Although remaining nonpartisan, the League does take positions on issues after making extensive study of the pros and cons involved. The League of Women Voters of Alaska is against closed caucus meetings during Alaska legislative sessions. Any citizen over 18 years old male or female may become a member of the League. For more information, call 260-4404 or 262-4801.



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