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FINAL VOTE SET ON REVISION OF MEETINGS LAW

The first major revision in the state's open meetings law is headed for a final legislative vote.

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Friday endorsed the House-passed bill that Idaho's broadcasters and daily newspapers admitted was a compromise but that weekly newspaper editors called a step backward from the existing law."This is the best bill we can get," Idaho Falls Post Register Publisher Jerry Brady told the committee. "We did the best we could."

The bill creates specific penalties against public officials who knowingly violate the open meetings law, including fines of up to $300. Currently, the only enforcement of the law is the ability to void any decision made during an illegally closed meeting. The bill also requires agendas for scheduled meetings be posting in advance.

The compromises to counter opposition from government officials included exempting from the new open meetings provisions ministerial or administrative actions necessary to carry out previously made policy and informal or impromptu discussions that occur prior to a matter officially coming before an agency or governmental body for action.

Those exceptions riled members of the Idaho Newspaper Association, which represents many of the state's weeklies. Pam Morris Seiffert, publisher of the Mountain Express in Ketchum, maintained the bill concedes the old law's longstanding precept that all meetings should be public.