Tennessee Senate modifies 10-year tourism record secrecy measure.

Nashville — Tennessee's Republican-controlled Senate modified a proposal to hide tourist records on Monday to shed light on how the state secures high-profile events. The GOP-controlled House passed legislation last month that would have allowed the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development head to withhold “sensitive” public data for 10 years.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee's bill upset open government activists since tourism records might be legally erased within 10 years and never seen again. In response, Senate members altered the bill to allow “sensitive” tourist records to escape the 10-year waiting period if state funds have been disbursed, the agreed event ends, or the state contract expires.

The Senate proposal stipulates that some documents may be withheld for 10 years but cannot be destroyed. However, some Senate members opposed expanding public records exemptions. “Anytime we tinker with the open records law and allow exemptions for different parties and stuff, I think we’re going down a slippery slope,” said Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire, who opposed the plan.

Even though Music City would profit most from high-profile concerts, some Nashville Democrats rejected the bill. “What could be so secretive that we’re hiding?” requested Democratic Sen. Charlane Oliver. Why is a bill like this needed that doesn't promote transparency?

The Senate voted 23-6, with two members voting “present.” After the adjustments, the bill must be returned to the House for approval. Over 500 public record exclusions are in Tennessee law, and more are case law. Since becoming president in 2019, Lee has pledged to make government more open, but he has not lifted those exclusions.

The Department of Tourism found records that officials have discussed hosting a Super Bowl for nearly a year. The department's research director, Josh Gibson, said the state is interested in College Football Playoffs, Wrestlemania, and World Rugby in an email.

Gibson wrote in 2023 that the state was considering hosting a Super Bowl by 2030 or 2031, but did not disclose the cost. He said Wrestlemania 2027 might cost $9 million in host costs and a CFP National championship game could cost $15 million to $18 million.

The tourism agency also gave Republican Rep. Andrew Farmer, the bill's House sponsor, talking points on why a 10-year waiting period to release public records was needed because “larger events, such as the Super Bowl, negotiations are years in the making; therefore, these protections need to be in place 5 to 10 years.” The Titans are developing a new enclosed stadium for 2027.

The Nashville project's $1.2 billion price tag is the highest public stadium pricing, surpassing New York's $850 million for Buffalo's $1.5 billion stadium. A translucent roof covers the 60,000-seat new stadium.

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