As the Legislature moves closer to adjournment, Bismarck’s old truism is on full display: If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.
The disorder that characterizes the final weeks in Carson City often provides cover for all manner of bad policy proposals. Consider Senate Bill 445, an attack on government transparency.
Currently, the state Purchasing Act demands that the administrator of the Purchasing Division advertise for most bids and proposals by publishing public notice “in at least one newspaper of general circulation in the state” and on the division’s website. The requirement helps ensure, among other things, that the notices are published by an independent party and reach as many people as possible.
But SB445, introduced only last week and rushed to committee, drops the provision that the state publish bids and proposals in at least one newspaper. Under the bill, simply putting the proposals on the Purchasing Division’s website would suffice for public notice.
We’ll admit to having a dog in this fight. But eroding public noticing mandates is a step backward that will make it more difficult for taxpayers and watchdogs to trust how the government conducts business, while potentially confining bids to a well-connected coterie of insiders. Besides communicating opportunities to vendors, notices serve as a means of informing community members that the government is poised to embark upon an important public project.
In addition, limiting notices to a state-run website could reduce the likelihood that Nevada will generate responses from a diverse group of vendors, driving up costs for taxpayers. It would also clearly create difficulties for those who don’t have computers or regular access to the internet.
Public notices are as vital to good government as public records and open meetings.
If SB445 becomes law, expect other public agencies and local governments to seek relief from noticing requirements in coming sessions. This would further embolden those in the public sector who prefer to operate in the shadows, far from the bright light of public scrutiny, increasing opportunities for favoritism and corruption.
On Wednesday, leading Democrats on the Senate Government Affairs Committee expressed support for removing the language that would eliminate notice in newspapers — but not before passing the bill to move it along and keep it alive. We hope they can follow through and prioritize good public notice policy. But if the bill remains unchanged, the proposal deserves to be buried deep in the vault where bad legislation goes to peacefully expire.