Wednesday, June 21, 2017
The Mississippi attorney general's office releasing the TAC report, which details how the state should work to fix its children's mental- and behavioral-health care system, this week is just one in a line of recent examples where transparency could have enabled the democratic process to work in a more efficient way.
The report details what advocates, news reports and other state officials have repeatedly said when asked about Mississippi's system of mental-health care—we over-rely on institutions to serve those who need care instead of offering community or home-based services instead.
If this information was out in the open two years ago when researchers completed the report, the State could have spent two years working to fix the system instead of allowing its agencies to continue to make the same mistakes. The State could have made and shown progress out in the open, even if the attorney general wanted to continue legal discussions and possible settlement agreements in private.
Keeping the report secret didn't help anyone—not the taxpayer, lawmaker or especially the child with mental- or behavioral-health needs. The obvious fixes necessary to help the state's children are the same today as they were in 2015, and the report shows that they might be even more important now, since spending on institutional care for children increased from fiscal-year 2010 to fiscal-year 2014.
On a national level, senators are on the verge of introducing a health-care reform bill that few lawmakers outside the inner circle have seen or will see before they are expected to vote on it. Again, taxpayers and Americans that the legislation directly affects will be in the dark until the last possible second.
Keeping legislation or reports in secret out of fear is not going to change the outcome or the predicted public reaction Since when did our democracy value a few like-minded officials cowering in a corner deciding what should go into legislation? We vote as a primary function of democracy, but the involvement and engagement doesn't end there. If Republicans are fearful of public outcry against the legislation, passing it in secret won't help. There will be outcry once it's passed anyway, but why not engage the public at the front end in order to bring in as many opinions and voices as possible?
Democracy in all its forms does best out in the open, in public for all citizens to engage in the process. In the current polarized political era, it's tempting to be petty, partisan and stubborn, but now is not the time.
The political process should be done in as public a forum as possible, and Americans must demand this from both state and nationally elected leaders. We are their employers.