Why is anyone supporting House Bill 218, the Industrial Development Secrecy Act?
Most will agree we need continued economic development here in Columbia County, but HB 218 is not about getting jobs. Companies who wanted a better deal simply will continue to tell a competing state what Georgia is offering.
The only entity that will be left in the dark after HB 218 becomes law is the public.
House Bill 218 will dramatically undercut the public's ability to find out, about a new factory that creates much needed jobs, or a waste treatment plant, a dump for out-of-state garbage or a private prison.
Georgia Law already allows industry recruiters to withhold from public scrutiny information that might reveal a company's trade secrets or a real estate transaction. HB 218 would allow officials to keep secret additional details -- such as tax abatements, cash payments, the location of the enterprise and reports detailing the impact of the development on schools and roads.
Consider this: All of the negotiating tools a recruiter has are owned by the public, yet legislators are saying the public doesn't need to know until after the deal is consummated.
Timing is everything. Is the real purpose of HB 218 to shut out the public, to silence citizens who might have a thought to the contrary?
This bill is bad -- bad for the public and bad for the public officials who may want it. It is far wiser to trust an informed citizenry. We live here. We fight the traffic every day. We must have a voice in new development in our neighborhoods.
Industry recruiters say they need more secrecy to land that big auto plant and its thousands of jobs. But the same cloak-and-dagger policy could also put a surprise landfill next door to your home.
This is a property rights issue. Mark Woodall, a friend of mine and Talbot County landowner, said "The last two people to come by and talk to our development authority represented a sludge dump and a medical waste grinder. If this bill passes, we wouldn't even know that. This is a pretty big can of worms they are opening up."
We keep hearing how HB 218 would have prevented Georgia from losing AOL. The fact is AOL went to Virginia because that state, unlike Georgia, was willing to give away the farm to retain one of its most visible corporate residents. In fact, AOL more than likely used the Cobb County site as a bargaining chip with Virginia.
Any law that provides for secrecy in government is wrong. One would think that the new Republican majority would err on the side of caution and stay away from such controversial legislation, but their record so far on HB 218 says not.
To all Georgians who care about their liberty: Call your elected representatives and express your opposition to House Bill 218.
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