Open to the world

There’s such a thing as blurring the lines between government and private interests to the point that a government supported by all of us might operate to the benefit of some. It’s a reasonable ethical issue.

Oregon Legislature siteBut there’s also such a thing as shutting government off from from people and the world around it – of shutting down interaction and communication in the interest of ethical purity. And that’s hardly any better.

Credit the Legislative Administration Committee, meeting Friday at Salem, with seeing as much.

This began with a fair inquiry: What kindof material, and what kind of links, are proper to place on the web site of the Oregon Legislature (and probably, by extension, the state web system)?

The Salem Statesman Journal noted that “Earlier this year, Web sites of individual legislators were restricted temporarily after questions were raised about whether some linked to inappropriate sites. State law bars use of public resources to promote or oppose a candidate or ballot measure, and government-ethics law bars a public official from use of office for personal financial gain.” Legislative leaders, including Senate President Peter Courtney, noted that lawmakers had no clear policy on web site content.

The probably need one. But do they need a policy that allows legislators to link only to other governmental sites? Is a bar on linking – not posting, just linking – to news articles, chambers of commerce and studies by interest groups really that harmful to the broad public interest? Or is it more a limitation on legislators’ ability to communicate with the public?

Legislative leaders were set to roll with the policy, but the administration committee voted against.

The line – a line most of us would agree on – between use and abuse of a legislative web site may be a little hard to nail down. But until someone comes up with it, the bias probably has to go to letting people speak, and point, their piece.

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