Tennesse House advances a bill to allow tourism records to remain secret for 10 years

Feb 29, 2024, 2:14 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Republican-dominant House on Thursday advanced legislation that would allow the state’s tourism public records to remain secret and hidden from the public eye.

The bill, proposed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, would allow the head of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development to exempt any public records for 10 years deemed “sensitive” by both the commissioner and attorney general.

The legislation is similar to privacy exemptions provided to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, which allows records also deemed sensitive to remain tucked away from the public for five years — with a possibility of another five year extension.

“What this would essentially do is allow for the Department of Tourism in their negotiations with businesses and tourism interests of the state of Tennessee to keep their trade secrets and proprietary information safe,” said Republican Rep. Andrew Farmer, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Farmer repeatedly cited that the state may be vying to host a Super Bowl in the near future and such negotiations over “mega events” should not be aired publicly.

Democrats criticized the bill as undermining government transparency.

“Call me old fashioned, but I believe the the public, taxpayers and our constituents deserve to know what the state is spending money on, and this diminishes transparency,” said Democratic Rep. Aftyn Behn.

Immediately following Behn’s comment, Republicans moved to cut off debate early.

The bill passed the House with a 69-16 vote, with four additional members voting present. It now must clear the Senate, which to date, has not yet scheduled the bill for a hearing.

“We’re not trying to hide things. We’re not trying to pay people, and we’re definitely not going to put them in posh hotel rooms and private jets,” Farmer said. “We’re not Washington, DC. We’re smart with our money in here in Tennessee.”

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Tennesse House advances a bill to allow tourism records to remain secret for 10 years