Commentary: Conflicts in the Tennessee General Assembly, Civil Behavior and Liberty

Sep 05, 2023 at 09:03 pm by WGNS News

Conflicts in the Tennessee General Assembly, civil behavior and liberty... With today's political commentary, here is MTSU Professor Larry Burriss...



Commentary (Verbatim): “For a couple of weeks now there seems to be a conflict between the Tennessee legislature and the public. Without getting into a debate about civil behavior and civil liberty, it is important to know that Tennessee Sunshine Laws allow the public to attend government meetings and hearings, and then talk about what goes on there.

The Tennessee law is so strong, it makes invalid any action taken at closed government meetings.

By way of disclaimer, issues about the actual conduct of spectators and legislators are not relevant here. We’re only concerned about what the law says about access to the process of government.

Many people seem to understand the right of the press to attend these government meetings, but in many cases they are missing one important point: the Tennessee Sunshine Law, indeed the First Amendment to the Constitution, applies not just to the press, but to the public in general.

Too often, it seems, is the idea the press and the public are separate entities, and that the public's right to know is somehow different from the media’s right to know. But this is simply not the case

In the reporting classes I teach, one assignment I give is to require students to attend a trial or city council meeting, or find a bit of information from public records.

Invariably some of the students will say they didn't know they could do any of those things. They think open meeting and open records laws apply only to the press, not to the people. In many cases they are shocked to learn they have the right to attend these meetings, or the right to see those records.

But remember, it is the public's right to know what is going on with their government that promotes citizens making intelligent decisions about matters of importance.

The only reason “press” is mentioned in these laws at all is that the writers already believed the public has the right to know what is going on with our elected representatives, and the right to know what is going on applies not just to the press, but to the public as well. - I’m Larry Burriss.”

About Dr. Burriss - Larry Burriss, professor of journalism, teaches introductory and media law courses. At the graduate level he teaches quantitative research methods and media law. He holds degrees from The Ohio State University (B.A. in broadcast journalism, M.A. in journalism), the University of Oklahoma (M.A. in human relations), Ohio University (Ph.D. in journalism) and Concord Law School (J.D.). He has worked in print and broadcast news and public relations, and has published extensively in both academic and popular publications. He has won first place in the Tennessee Associated Press Radio Contest nine times. Dr. Burriss' publications and presentations include studies of presidential press conferences, NASA photography, radio news, legal issues related to adolescent use of social networking sites, legal research, and Middle Earth.

Dr. Burriss has served as director of the School of Journalism, dean of the College of Mass Communication and president of the MTSU Faculty Senate. He was appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen to serve on the Tennessee Board of Regents. He was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and served on active duty in Mali, Somalia, Bosnia, Central America, Europe and the Pentagon.


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