When the public requests public information, government agencies in Oregon can turn refusal into an art form. High fees and lengthy delays are among the tools of the trade.
Gov. Kate Brown has offered draft legislation to improve Oregon’s public records law. But it has so much wrong with it, Oregonians would be better off without it — unless it gets a rewrite.
The draft creates a public records advocate and a public records advisory council. These reforms have been discussed by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s public records task force.
One thing the advocate would do under the draft is provide training to ensure government workers understand the public’s right to access government information. If that training emphasizes not only the letter of the law but the law’s spirit — that public access should prevail barring compelling reasons otherwise — it might be a good thing.
But there are other aspects of the draft that Rosenblum challenged during a meeting of her public records task force on Thursday. Rosenblum questioned the power granted to the advocate to issue advisory opinions on public records disputes. She and other members of the task force wondered how the advisory opinions might complicate and conflict with opinions issued by district attorneys, judges or the attorney general’s office on public records disputes. How would the advocate’s advisory opinions be weighted?
If there’s one thing Rosenblum’s task force has discussed, it’s the number of exemptions to Oregon’s public records law. Oregon has more than 550 specific exemptions. The federal Freedom of Information Act has only nine, though they are broader. A draft report from Rosenblum’s task force says: “The task force believes that Oregon’s exemptions are out of control and need systematic review.”
Do you know what Brown’s draft legislation does? It adds another!
Under the draft, the advocate would be given the authority to mediate some public records disputes. All materials given to the advocate by the requester of the record and the government entity that holds the record would be exempted from public disclosure. So in a dispute over the public records, the public can’t know the arguments for and against disclosure? Now, there’s a new low for Oregon public records.
Brown vowed her administration would be transparent. This draft legislation is transparently bad.